Crossroads sees homelessness rise among older Rhode Islanders
ACCORDING TO A CROSSROADS Rhode Island report released Monday, the number of homeless people in Rhode Island over age 50 grew 34 percent between 2010 and 2012 – from 632 individuals to 845. Dr. Michael Fine, a member of the Crossroads board of directors and director of the R.I. Department of Health, said the report "ought to give us pause."
WEST WARWICK – Growth in the number of homeless people over age 50 is the latest trend in Rhode Island and across the country that Crossroads Rhode Island believes warrants both attention and action.
In a report released Monday morning at a press conference at Harold Lewis House, a supportive residence for the homeless in West Warwick, Crossroads President Anne Nolan cites a single telling statistic: The number of homeless people in Rhode Island over age 50 grew 34 percent between 2010 and 2012 – from 632 individuals to 845.
Eric Hirsch, a sociology professor at Providence College and vice president of the board of directors for the Rhode Island Coalition for Homelessness, provided the state statistics, which he said are based on numbers reported in the state’s emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing through the Homeless Management Information System RI.
“We are definitely seeing a very large increase in people over 50 becoming homeless,” Hirsch said in an interview. “I certainly think that’s something to pay attention to and respond to and get these people into permanent housing.”
The Providence-based homeless service organization timed its annual report with the opening of five new units at the Harold Lewis House, already home to nine residents. The new units are dedicated to those who are over 50 and have mental health issues, with preference given to veterans.
The renovations and new construction cost $400,000, with funding coming from a community-development block grant from the city of West Warwick and federal funding provided through three state programs.
“When you think about the aging population, you think of them in retirement in their golden years,” said Karen Santilli, Crossroads vice president of marketing and development, whose team spearheaded compilation of the report. “Becoming newly homeless would not be something you think would happen to a 70-year-old who has worked all their life.”
The report cites the research of Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor and authority on the demographics of homelessness. Culhane found in 2012 that, nationally, half of the chronically homeless fell between the ages of 51 and 61. He projects that those numbers will double over the next three years.
Terry Jones, 71, once a homeless veteran, has been a resident of the Harold Lewis House since 2007. His perspective is included in the report as well.
“Harold Lewis House is one of the best places in the world to be,” he said in the report. “It is quiet and peaceful here, and everything you need is really close by.”
Dr. Michael Fine, a member of the Crossroads board of directors and director of the R.I. Department of Health, said in the report that the right treatment for the ill who end up homeless isn’t medical care but housing. And it’s sobering to see many older people have become homeless because they lost a job or didn’t have adequate savings for retirement, he added in an interview.
“The report serves to call attention to the presence of homelessness in Rhode Island and to the notion that it affects everybody,” said Fine. “It ought to give us pause to think of a 72-year-old walking with a walker and being homeless. As we get closer to Thanksgiving and the holidays, it’s important to remember how lucky those of us who are housed are and how important it is for us to take care of everyone together.”
Some of the resources available to the homeless come through the R.I. Department of Elderly Affairs, including investigation of financial abuse, intervention with older people who are struggling to pay taxes or keep their homes and other services available by calling (401) 462-4444, said the department director, Catherine Terry Taylor, in a letter accompanying the report.
The agency’s mission is, Taylor wrote, “to preserve the dignity and independence of our state’s elderly and adults with disabilities. Nothing could be more central to an individual’s dignity and independence than having a home.”