In a story that’s sadly all too familiar, Earl goes to his local soup kitchen to eat a warm meal and drink some tea each day at 11am sharp. With gratitude, he tucks into a freshly-cooked dish, a temporary relief from his worries. The rest of his day is often spent searching for a safe place to sleep: there are many others without a place to go and not always enough room for everyone. Earl is one of the many valuable human beings part of the steadily growing aging homeless population in San Francisco.
Over the last decade, there’s been a 30% rise in the number of homeless older adults in our city. The cost of living is up, wages are down, and older adults may be feeling these effects the most: they need stable housing but are being priced out of their homes because of their fixed incomes. And San Francisco’s unusually large aging population creates even more competition for affordable and low-income housing. Older adults can easily find themselves facing homelessness for the first time in their lives, but there are support systems in place if your aging loved one has become, or is fearful of becoming, homeless.
Consequences of Being Homeless for Older Adults
Homelessness takes an incredible toll on anyone’s life, but the health consequences are even more severe for older adults. Research suggests that homeless older adults typically endure health problems of someone 25 years older. In addition to physical repercussions, the homeless aging population faces other adverse effects including emotional issues.
- Emotional stress: Anxiety, fear, depression, and shame are common for homeless older adults to experience. This can make homelessness hard to emerge from if the person feels hopeless or unmotivated to seek help.
- Sleep deprivation: Without a safe, familiar home in which to sleep, older adults can suffer from insomnia or lack of sleep. This can create a slew of health problems, both physical and mental. It can also exacerbate pre-existing illness, and lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression.
- Insufficient health care: It’s nearly impossible to make a doctor’s appointment or keep track of your medications if your basic needs—like food and shelter—aren’t met. For this reason, many older adults are forced to ignore serious health problems and delay important treatment.
- Lack of food: If a homeless older adult is unable to get themselves to a shelter or soup kitchen, they might go hungry the whole day. Poor nutrition can cause health problems to worsen, and they may even risk starvation.
How You Can Help Support a Homeless Aging Adult
If your aging loved one is out on the streets, there are many ways you can choose to offer them assistance. It’s important to use compassionate language and ultimately respect your loved one’s choices. Provide them with understanding and empathy—and make it clear you’re there to help in any way possible. That might simply mean being a sympathetic listener to their feelings, bringing them a warm meal, or pointing them toward some of the many resources homeless older adults in San Francisco.
- Ask how they’re feeling both emotionally and physically—and if they’re experiencing any health problems that need immediate attention.
- Open a discussion about how they became homeless in the first place so you can understand what the underlying issue is.
- Offer to connect them with resources that can help them move forward, like a shelter, case manager, or place to get daily meals.
- If you’re able, offer to accompany them to these places so you can give support.
- Whether or not they accept your help, keep returning and talking with them, even if it’s just checking to see how they’re doing. They might soon open up to help.
Local Centers for Homeless Older Adults
If you know an older adult who’s homeless, the best way you can help is by connecting them with supportive services. Whether it’s a safe shelter with beds, a center that serves food, or a support group for homeless seniors, there are many ways to offer support. While there’s a segment of the aging homeless population for whom homelessness is a lifestyle choice, it can still be incredibly valuable to reach out to them—it’s possible that they’re experiencing resistance that can be worked through with patience, understanding, and acceptance.
Additionally, if an older adult is struggling with an addiction of some kind, they may feel hesitant to reach out for help or make use of local resources. Fortunately, there are shelters and programs that specifically cater to helping homeless older adults suffering from addiction, like the Next Door Center. For those willing to engage in seeking help, San Francisco offers a wide variety of valuable resources to help homeless older adults stay safe, gain community, and get back on their feet.
Next Door Center
The Next Door Center is a shelter that provides beds to sleep on and daily meals for people of all ages. With the help of case management, and a stable place to sleep and eat, many of the residents here go on to successfully find affordable housing of their own.
- Daily meals: Residents at the Next Door Shelter are given two meals a day, which in itself can be a huge stress-relief for older adults and provide them with much-needed nourishment.
- Case management: Through SF START, Next Door Center offers mental health services and case management. This helps provide residents with access to important resources, like healthcare, drug treatment, and long-term housing.
- Substance abuse issues: Some residents here are in the process of dealing with substance abuse, or waiting to get treatment for it. Older adults dealing with this issue can find a safe haven here.
- Reservations are needed: Because of the high demand, you must visit the shelter in person to reserve a bed. There are 334 beds in total available, with men and women in separate areas.
- Address: 1001 Polk Street, San Francisco
- Phone: (415) 487-3300
- Open: 24-hours a day
- Suitable for: Homeless older adults in need of a bed, food, and support, as well as supportive drug treatment.
Canon Kip Senior Center
This center provides a safe, stable place for homeless older adults to get a hot meal, socialize with others, exercise, spend time outside, and even cruise the internet. They focus on serving low-income older adults 60-years-old and up.
- Daily, hot lunches: The center serves around 100 meals each day to older adults. Come early (before 11:30am) since meals are served to those who arrive first.
- Individual case management: This is an invaluable service for older adults who want to be able to access better healthcare, low-income housing, and ongoing support to improve their situation.
- Outdoor & indoor activities: There’re plenty of things to do here, including a daily computer lab, gardening, exercise groups, and games—plus it’s a great place to read and relax. They also celebrate people’s birthdays once a month with a lively party.
- Support group: Every Tuesday at 8:30am, the Homeless Senior Support Group comes together to share stories, connect, and support each other in moving forward.
- Address: 705 Natoma Street, San Francisco
- Phone: (415) 487-3300
- Open: Monday to Friday, between 8:30am and 4:30pm
- Suitable for: Homeless older adults seeking food, helpful resources, and a supportive community.
Lady Shaw Senior Center
Aimed at low-income older adults, Lady Shaw Senior Center in Chinatown is a community-centered apartment complex that offers affordable housing so older adults with a low budget can live as independently as possible in their own space.
- Independent living: The complex can house up to 75 older adults. Each person is given their own one-bedroom or studio apartment, including private bathroom and kitchen.
- Activities & community: In addition to the comfortable housing, Lady Shaw also runs regular group activities and has a community dining room so residents can eat together at mealtime.
- Self-help for the Elderly: This staple program ensures low-income senior residents access to any home-care they need in an upbeat environment.
- Address: 1483 Mason Street, San Francisco
- Phone: (415) 677-7600
- Open: Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm
- Suitable for: Low-income older adults working with a case manager (and possibly living in a shelter) who want to move into a more independent housing situation.
Exploring helpful resources like these can provide some relief and temporary solutions for older adults in need. After all, even something as simple as connecting with other homeless seniors can be the start of a positive ripple effect for some. Whether it’s helping a senior in need, preventing your loved one from becoming homeless, or helping them off the streets, one thing is clear: homelessness is something we all need to think about.
And for those of us living in the Bay Area, it’s an increasingly pressing social issue that demands our attention. While there are undoubtedly many questions that remain unanswered, taking an honest look at the aging homeless population can not only help spark a dialogue, it can point us toward areas we can improve upon—and offer those suffering some much-needed hope.
If you’re unsure how to help an aging loved one improve their quality of life, Institute on Aging offers a range of services, programs, and online resources. Contact us today to learn more.