A good investment to keep California’s seniors from becoming homeless

Article Sacramento Bee

By Frank Mecca

We are witnessing an awful reality that as California’s senior population booms, so does the number of elderly and disabled adults who are abused, neglected or exploited.

They often are forced into potentially life-threatening homelessness even after Adult Protective Services is alerted. Unfortunately, when APS was created two decades ago, it wasn’t designed, nor was it ever funded, to deal with complicated housing issues.

Each year, APS receives about 150,000 reports of elder and adult dependent abuse statewide. In Sacramento alone, APS get around 500 reports each month, and 10 percent or more are either at risk of losing their homes, or are homeless. The deeply negative effects of homelessness are well documented, including emergency room visits or extended hospital stays. Older adults who become homeless are likely to die 20 to 30 years earlier than if they were housed.

A timely intervention would not only mean fewer homeless adults; it would literally save lives. APS social workers are on the front lines to stop the abuse and link victims to services to keep them safe. But if the abuse leads to homelessness, the workers have few tools to help. At a recent Senate budget subcommittee hearing, Sacramento APS Director Ruth MacKenzie described seniors forced with an impossible choice between homelessness, or remaining with their abusers.

In response, the County Welfare Directors Association, California Commission on Aging and California Elder Justice Coalition are sponsoring a budget proposal called Home Safe, with the support of Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care.

Home Safe is a one-time state investment of $15 million that will be matched by counties dollar for dollar. This money could be used by APS for temporary rental and utility assistance, housing repairs, counseling services, landlord and neighbor mediation, and case management.

While the primary benefit of Home Safe is humanitarian, a secondary advantage will be to taxpayers. When this aging population ends up on the street, the costs of ER visits, hospital stays, law enforcement response and other services are a huge fiscal burden.

A relatively small upfront investment in Home Safe would ultimately save taxpayer dollars. In fact, a recent 2016 study in the journal Science showed that providing individuals less than $1,000 in financial assistance to keep them in heir homes saved taxpayers around $10,000 per person, and reduced their risk of homelessness over the next six months by 76 percent.

These seniors have raised families, bettered their communities and paid their taxes; they do not deserve the indignity of society leaving them behind to live on the streets. We owe it to seniors across California who have been victims of abuse and neglect to protect them from becoming homeless.

Frank Mecca is executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. He can be contacted at fmecca@cwda.org.

Read the full opinion editorial here.