Seniors experiencing homelessness report that this is the first time they’ve been without shelter.

Many of them have grown up here, started their family here, paid taxes here, and built the foundation of their life here. But, the sudden loss of a spouse and expenses of a funeral, monthly medical bills, or simply not having family members in the area for support, can lead to the loss of a place to call home.

This is what happened to 63-year-old Toni and her 15-year-old grandson, Josh. Granted guardianship of Josh at birth, Toni loves Josh as if he was her own son. Unfortunately, she’s lost touch with her own children and divorced many years ago. Josh is the only person that she has now. “But I can’t keep up [with him] like I used to,” she shared.

Toni did her best to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.

For years, they lived together in an apartment. But the property was poorly maintained, fixing things wasn’t a priority to the owners, and the quality of life became so unbearable that Toni and Josh moved out. They stayed in a motel for as long as they could afford to, but the time came when Toni’s fixed income had been spent on food, clothes, and personal care items and they could no longer afford to pay for their room.

Josh was able to stay with friends, but Toni was less fortunate. She had colleagues that would let her come wash-up at their house, but they didn’t have enough space for her to sleep there. She can’t recall how long she went without shelter. A few months ago while eating a meal at Martha’s Kitchen, Toni learned about the Family Housing Hub and UMOM New Day Centers.

“I was so relieved when I got here and learned about all of the things that I could get help with,” Toni shared. She rambles off a list of things that she didn’t have while unsheltered, “clothes, laundry room, soap, a shower, a bed of my own, a bathroom, hot food each day…” Having a one-on-one case manager at UMOM has made a huge difference for Toni. “Having someone who wants to talk to me and even help me… that’s so nice.”

Toni receives a Social Security check each month for about $750. That’s all she has to pay for rent, food for herself and her growing teenage grandson, and emergencies.

In 2019, the average Social Security check for retired workers was approximately $1,475. At the same time, rent increased by 8% in Phoenix, coming in at an average cost of $1,805 per month. Even with an established budget, a fixed income won’t provide enough money to pay for rent, groceries, medical expenses and basic necessities. The cost of living will continue to rise as retirement income stays close to the same.

Most seniors in the Maricopa County region who are eligible to receive Social Security benefits are only receiving $700 each month. Once someone loses housing or they can no longer afford to stay in a hotel or a motel, their options for shelter are extremely limited. Searching for affordable housing can mean staying on a waitlist for more than two years’ time. In the meantime, seniors must take care of themselves to the best of their ability. Currently, there are no shelters that specifically cater toward the seniors in our community who are experiencing homelessness.

There is an innate need for shelter and services catering to the specific needs of seniors who are close to or currently experiencing homelessness in our community. Spring of 2020, UMOM will be opening an affordable housing community for seniors and veterans. It’s one step closer to bridging the gap for those in our community who find themselves unable to keep up with the cost of living on a fixed income.

EVERYONE HAS A ROLE IN ENDING HOMELESSNESS.

You can help seniors like Toni, who are vulnerable and experiencing homelessness, find a place to call home. With available resources, supportive services, and safe shelter, community members become informed and empowered to help end the experience of homelessness.

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