The baby boomer generation – roughly estimated at over 76 million people – is aging and reaching senior status.
Today roughly 15 percent of Americans are 65 or older. It’s a large enough population that the metaphor “silver tsunami” has been employed to talk about the baby boomer generation – roughly estimated at over 76 million people – aging and reaching senior status.
“It stands to reason statistically that if there are more seniors out there, there’s going to be more need from that population,” says Tim Zaricznyj, the Executive Director of Housing for Providence Health & Services.
He says that yes, there are going to be more high-income earners, but there are also going to be more extremely low-income earners, and with people statistically living longer money becomes a central issue to quality of life.
Zaricznyj likens it to a domino effect.
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Zaricznyj tells of a resident in Portland. She was living in a two-bedroom apartment and upon retirement had a small savings and was living on a fixed income from Social Security. She went on Medicare, which raised her copays on prescription medications. Then, her landlord raised the rent substantially. She moved to a studio to cut costs. After a year the new landlord stopped paying for water, garbage and cable. She also had a health-related issue with a significant copay.
“It was one thing after the next and to hear her tell it she basically woke up one day and was at the women’s shelter at the Salvation Army in downtown Portland. She had just exhausted the little savings she had and had no recourse but to go into a shelter,” he says.
This is the kind of story Zaricznyj hears repeatedly from residents.
“I think a big part is these individuals are subject to a fixed income and adjustments to social security simply haven’t caught up with the exponential cost of living – in Seattle for sure – but in all of the big West Coast cities. They simply don’t keep up,” he says.
The area median income for Seattle is more than $80,000 per year. Providence Supportive Housing targets seniors with an income below 30% of that, but many of their residents’ incomes hover more around 15%, or under $12,000 per year. Across their 784 units they have a 99.1% occupancy rate and waitlist times that sometimes stretch into years.
Providence St. Joseph Health has 16 supportive housing buildings spread throughout Washington, Oregon and California.
“All told we are 784 units of permanent supportive housing for low-income elderly and people with disabilities,” Zaricznyj says.
Unfortunately, there is no time machine where a senior can go back and make different choices. Much of the time, they made all the right ones. Zaricznyj has residents who have had productive work lives. One used to work for NASA and owned a computer business.
“I feel like he did everything that we as a society and a culture said that he should do. Now, I know he didn’t have massive savings, but we promised this social safety net, ‘we’ll support you as you age.’ ”
This scenario can happen to any senior. Providence St. Joseph has long-term goals when it comes to helping the senior population and ending homelessness. But as Dora Barilla, Vice President for Community Health Investment says, “It’s taken generations of root causes to get where we are and it’s not going to happen overnight. There needs to be some long-term work, and it’s going to take decades to turn this around.”
What can you do if there’s someone in your life who is aging and could possibly one day be dealing with housing instability? Have the tough conversation.
Zaricznyj says that it’s “natural in humans to resist thinking about aging and disability.”
But, “The more that someone can plan and think and realistically explore what options could look like and avail themselves of those options when a good one emerges, they’ll be better off in the long run,” he says.
If you’re a senior thinking about your life as you age, Zaricznyj says don’t try to manage on your own, even if the impulse is there. Ask for help to ensure a safe, secure future. And don’t underestimate the power of community.
“I’m seeing the power of community to fill in gaps. If someone had to go in for an outpatient procedure and they’re brought home that same day, you see neighbors caring for neighbors. I think we underestimate the value and the power of community to fill care gaps in the greater system. We see that happening all the time and we encourage it.”
Providence St. Joseph Health is a national, not-for-profit driven by a belief that health is a human right and continuously innovates to ensure access for all. PSJH is based in Renton, Washington.