Opinion: Why state should fully fund housing program for victims of elder abuse
The Home Safe program would help abuse and neglect victims maintain a stable living environment

Article San Jose Mercury News


The California Legislature will decide the fate of the Home Safe program that could provide desperately needed housing for adults and seniors with disabilities.

As director of Santa Clara County’s Social Services Agency, I’ve seen first-hand the commitment of our social workers in Adult Protective Services (APS) to intervene and protect seniors and adults with disabilities from abuse and neglect. However, when the California Elder and Dependent Adult Civil Protection act was passed in 1982, the county and state could not have envisioned the current shortage of affordable housing coupled with the increasing aging population, or the impacts it would have on these vulnerable populations.

The aging population is experiencing unprecedented growth in Santa Clara County, and is predicted to increase by 40 percent between 2016 and 2026.  As a result, demand for APS services has also increased by 14 percent over each of the last three years, and in 2017 the numbers increased by approximately 20 percent.

Many seniors and adults with disabilities referred to the APS program are facing serious risks to long-term, stable housing because of abuse, neglect or exploitation. In fact, some victims are targeted due to the equity in their homes, others experience such severe neglect that their homes fall into disrepair.  Once a home is lost to foreclosure or eviction, abuse and neglect victims face poor prospects of finding other affordable housing. Homelessness can result in irreversible and negative impacts to their health, safety and well being.

Unfortunately, APS was not designed or resourced to intervene on behalf of victims of abuse and neglect in situations of housing instability or homelessness.

That’s why Santa Clara County is in full support of the Home Safe program for the 2018-2019 state budget.  Home Safe is a $15 million demonstration grant program for county APS offices statewide that will be matched by counties dollar-for-dollar over the next three years.  If Home Safe is approved, all county APS programs would be eligible to apply for a grant for eviction and homelessness prevention. The state will award grants on a competitive basis according to demonstrated need and the strength of the proposed program.

APS could use the funds in many ways to help stabilize abuse and neglect victims at the point of crisis to maintain or to support a stable living environment.  This temporary aid could be applied toward rental and utility assistance, landlord mediation, counseling services, housing repairs and case management to support victims in their home.

Home Safe funds would save lives like the adult man in his fifties who was living with an undiagnosed intellectual impairment in Santa Clara County when his family member passed away.  Left without his primary caregiver and unconnected to any services, he was unable to care for himself or make plans for his needs. He was living in a home with a collapsing roof, no electricity, no running water or working bathrooms. Because of the severity of his impairment he needed long-term case management to connect him to permanent supportive services and a temporary housing subsidy to stabilize him, but those services are not readily available, nor resourced. If he were to become homeless, his health would rapidly deteriorate, and he would be extremely vulnerable to victimization.

While homelessness is a pervasive issue across the state for many populations, there are very few services that are targeted to the specific needs of elders and dependent adults.  By supporting Home Safe, homelessness prevention assistance funds would become available for the first time to victims of abuse and neglect, which demonstrates a just society and honors generations that came before at a time when it’s needed most.

Robert Menicocci is the director of the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency.

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