Zamudio is director of Homeless Outreach Housing 4 the Homeless. She lives in Mission Hills.
The true measure of a just society can be gauged by how it treats its most vulnerable members; on the issue of homelessness among the elderly, San Diego is failing. There is a “perfect storm” of events, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put medically frail older people in grave danger.
This is especially true for the unsheltered, who are dying on our streets in record numbers, right before our eyes. Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed multiple deaths in the street. This alarming fact is ignored by those to whom we have entrusted the right to make decisions regarding the health, safety and well-being of our region.
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It is the legal, moral, and ethical obligation of the City and County of San Diego to provide safe haven for the most fragile members of our community. Group shelters are not safe or appropriate for older people for a wide variety of reasons: There are rarely bottom bunks available. They are vulnerable to other shelter residents who often steal from them. They cannot defend themselves when harassed by people with serious mental illness and substance use disorder. They have an increased susceptibility to diseases that regularly circulate in gathering places. And they don’t have the mobility to leave every day and roam the streets until they are let in at night.
It’s not just my opinion. Paul Downey, CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps poor seniors lead healthy, fulfilling lives, notes that one in four homeless people in San Diegans are over the age of 55. Many have mobility issues and avoid communal shelters where they have to sit on beds or share toilets.
These people often have complex medical issues and suffer from incontinence, lack of mobility and physical limitations.
We need hotel rooms with private restrooms for every senior as they manage their medical conditions and ailments.
Elderly people absolutely cannot maintain their health, much less recover from injuries and illnesses, when they sleep outdoors. Going to vital medical appointments without access to a phone, transportation, or a way to track their appointments unnecessarily exacerbates the negative health effects associated with aging. Life-saving prescriptions are often stolen from older people, and they are often victims of abuse and violent crime on the streets. The emergency services are naturally unable to take care of these people. Skilled nursing facilities are full. Our paramedics must constantly fill in on the front line and transfer people from the streets to the emergency services.
This is unacceptable negligence on the part of our elected officials. We have ample resources to take care of these people. This is politics at its worst, a matter of our will, a matter of ignoring marginalized populations who have no voice.
The City of San Diego has refused to access fully reimbursable funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide hotel rooms for these individuals. The county implemented a program, but despite great success, the county shut it down in March and hasn’t allowed new people in for months. There are two hotels that have been leased by the county and are fully staffed with security, food service, housekeeping and social workers with vacant rooms that could be used to house those who need it. Not needed anymore. Red tape and lack of conviction empty these much-needed rooms and keep our medically compromised seniors on the streets.
Reps routinely come up with excuse after excuse as to why they can’t do anything about this crisis. Supervisory board chairman Nathan Fletcher recently said hotels were less willing to work with the county and there had been staffing issues. I think it’s just a lack of will and a pathetic evasion on his part.
San Diego’s homelessness crisis is an elder abuse issue, a gender discrimination issue, a racial justice issue, a human rights issue, a veterans issue, and a civil rights issue. Our African American community bears the brunt at 6 percent of the general population but 30 percent of our homeless population.
It is a question of will or lack of resources. Over the past few years, our area has been inundated with new funding from government programs such as Project Roomkey, the Homeless Emergency Assistance Program, and the Housing, Assistance, and Homelessness Prevention Grants. -shelter, in addition to all the usual annual funding sources.
We can no longer rely on GoFundMe to provide reasonable housing for our most vulnerable neighbors in San Diego. We need our government agencies to act.
In the meantime, help us by participating in our GoFundMe for “Hotels 4 Houseless Seniors”. Visit housing4thehomeless.org to make a tax-deductible donation.