Imagine that you are 50+ years old. You have been in the workforce for 30 or more years. You worked your whole life to make sure that when the time came, your family would be taken care of and you would be able to afford retirement.
Sadly, though, that is not the reality for many seniors. Homelessness comes quickly and it hits them before they can really process what is happening. All it takes is an unexpected sickness, a fall, or an accident.
Or, maybe the savings they accumulated over their careers cannot compensate for higher costs of living, plus the fact that people are living longer than ever before. If they do not have a backup plan, or family that can take them in, seniors are forced to live on the street.
They have never been homeless; that’s a possibility they had never considered. But they can’t find jobs they can work that could cover their expenses. Once these seniors are on the streets, they become — largely — invisible.
Homeless seniors are subjected to all sorts of abuse, even in homeless shelters. Younger members can often see seniors as easy targets; they are more prone to experiencing theft, sexual abuse, violent crimes, etc. These seniors have a mortality rate that is 4x higher than any other homeless population; they have a 30% higher chance of visiting the emergency room, which they cannot afford to do. If they can’t go to the shelters for help, then what other option do they have?
Senior homelessness may seem like a niche problem/opportunity for ministry, but the truth is that the elderly homeless population has steadily grown over the last two decades
“The Department of Housing and Urban Development says that 553,000 Americans were homeless last year… half of them were over 50 years of age and studies show that the 50-plus segment of the homeless population is likely to triple over the next ten years. In 1990, only 11% of the homeless population was 50 or older.“
276,500 seniors living on the street, with that number estimated to TRIPLE in TEN YEARS to 829,500.
The Justa Center in Phoenix, Arizona exists solely for the sake of seniors caught in homelessness. It was started in 2006 by Pastor Scott Richey and members of the United Methodist Church. Pastor Richey and his staff spent time asking homeless seniors in the area what services and programs would help them get back on their feet. Now, the Justa Center sees 120-150 seniors each day.
The name, itself, is misleading. The Justa Center is one building — a relatively small building — less than half a mile from Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).
However, despite limited space and budget, the Justa Center is doing everything they can to help homeless seniors get access the resources they need, with the goal of getting these people into sustainable housing. Resources provided include:
- Help applying for Social Security, disability, and medicare
- Free legal counseling
- Laundry services
- Job training, resume creating, job-search assistance
- Free meals every morning
- Meals on Wheels
- Free access to nurses and podiatrists
- Free library
- Computers for contacting family/conducting job searches
They also have an ambassador program, which conducts checkups on seniors that have been able to move into affordable housing. Generally, the Justa Center helps 20-30 people each month acquire housing. The Justa Center provides basic furniture (bed set, couch/loveseat, dresser, lamps, etc.), cleaning supplies, and toiletries for new residents.
The ambassador program is for once they have settled into their new housing, to help them maintain and keep their housing.
Within the last year, the Justa Center has had to reduce their budget, their operational hours, and their staff. They now have six paid employees. As recently as August, there was concern that the center would have to close down, due to insufficient funds. Fortunately, they were able to keep the doors open, but they still need help. The Center is dependent on donations.
If you are interested in donating time, money, or supplies to the Justa Center, please visit their website www.justacenter.org/current-needs for an up-to-date list of ways you can help or donate.