Victims of Elder Abuse Are Being Forced into Homelessness at an Alarming Rate

Blog post Callie Freitag

Home Safe program would help counties step in to protect vulnerable adults

Alice* weighed only 80 pounds when she was rushed to the hospital last year by ambulance. At 80 years old, with limited mobility, she was terrified to return home to her daughter and adult grandsons. Alice knew the brutal neglect she had suffered would only continue. These family members refused to help Alice get to the kitchen to eat, or to the bathroom to use the toilet. She was often left to soil her bed. When the time came to discharge Alice from the skilled nursing rehabilitation facility she was transferred to, she had nowhere else to go. She was too healthy to stay at the nursing home, but didn’t want to go back to her abusive family who still had control of her finances. The hospital called Adult Protective Services (APS), not wanting to discharge her without a place to go. The county’s social worker assigned to the case is now working to get Alice’s Social Security checks back from her family.

In the meantime, Alice may be forced into a homeless shelter because her finances are controlled by her abusers. While APS can help Alice get her money back and refer her to affordable housing resources, the program doesn’t have the resources for the services needed to find Alice affordable housing and help her move. Unfortunately, when it was created two decades ago, APS wasn’t designed –  and has never been funded – to deal with complicated housing and homeless issues that have skyrocketed in recent years.

“…Alice may be forced into a homeless shelter because her finances remain controlled by her abusers.”

All too often these days, cases of elder and dependent adult abuse like Alice’s end up with the vulnerable victims forced into traumatic, potentially life-threatening homelessness. And, as California’s senior population booms, so does the number of reported elder and dependent abuse and neglect cases. This growing issue is compounded by the housing crisis facing our state. APS receives about 150,000 reports of elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect every year; of those cases, counties estimate an average of 10 percent or more are at risk of losing their homes.

For most of these victims, this will be the first time they have ever been homeless. Studies show that adults that become homeless after age 50 are likely to remain so for at least a year or longer. The deeply negative effect on their health caused by homelessness is also well documented: victims like Alice very often end up in the emergency room or in extended hospital stays. Older adults like Alice who become homeless later in life are likely to die 20 to 30 years earlier than if they had remained housed.

A timely intervention, if it were available, would mean more than just fewer homeless adults – it would literally save lives.

“APS receives about 150,000 reports of elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect every year; of those cases, counties estimate that 10 percent or more are at risk of losing their homes.”

In response to this growing tragedy, CWDA, California Commission on Aging and California Elder Justice Coalition are cosponsoring a budget proposal called Home Safe, with the support of Assemblymember Ash Kalra, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, as our legislative champion.

Home Safe is a demonstration grant program for 15 counties over the next three years that seeks to solve the dilemma of elder and dependent adult homelessness that results from abuse and/or neglect. It’s a one-time state budget cost of $15 million that will be matched by counties on a one-to-one basis. These funds could be used in multiple ways to ensure these victims don’t lose their homes, such as temporary rental and utility assistance, housing repairs and heavy cleaning, counseling services, landlord and neighbor mediation, and in-depth case management to help victims find a safe and stable place to live.

While the primary benefit of this proposal is a human one, a secondary advantage will be to taxpayers’ pocketbooks. When this aging population ends up on the streets, the cost of emergency room visits, hospital stays, and other services are a huge fiscal burden carried by the taxpayers.

A relatively small upfront investment in Home Safe to ensure abuse and neglect victims don’t lose their housing when they are in crisis would ultimately save taxpayer dollars.  In fact, a recent 2016 study in Science journal showed that providing individuals less than $1,000 in financial assistance to help maintain their homes saved taxpayers around $10,000 per person served and reduced the risk of homelessness over the next six months by 76 percent. A modest investment in Home Safe will save far more in avoided ER visits, hospital stays, and calls to law enforcement.

These vulnerable adults have lived their lives raising families, bettering their communities and paying taxes; they do not deserve the indignity of society leaving them behind to live on the streets. We owe it to Alice and hundreds like her across the state to protect them from being thrown out on the streets because of circumstances they cannot control. Through the Home Safe program, we can save lives, help families and even save taxpayer dollars in the future.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy