Nearly half of Santa Clara County's homeless population are people 55 and older

A new report says seniors across the country are falling into poverty and homelessness more than any other group. Santa Clara County’s most recent data shows that nearly half of its homeless population are people 55 and older. 

The crisis is being called the Silver Tsunami, where many more seniors are falling on hard times. It’s not a new problem, but now the pandemic and rising housing costs are bringing this issue to the forefront.  

"I’m living just above a thousand dollars a month. It’s not easy. You’re paying 30% of your income for rent," said Adrienne Lawton, CHAM Deliverance Ministry.   

Sixty-eight-year-old Lawton says she started working at 18 years old and now that she’s retired, she’s serving as an Associate Pastor with CHAM Deliverance Ministry in San Jose. She helps those in need of housing and other services, even though she stills struggles to keep herself afloat.  

"I’ve been unhoused myself. It wasn’t long and it was a number of years ago, but that’s our flesh and blood out there on the streets. People that we worked with die, so it still hurts," said Lawton.  

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report shows that last year, a million more seniors aged 65 and older, fell into poverty. That’s more than 10% of seniors, the highest level since 2002. Santa Clara County also reported 40% of its homeless population was at least 55 years or older in 2019.  

"What we recommend is for people to get connected to resources in the community. Right now, we serve a lot of seniors that are unhoused, or on the verge of being unhoused or at risk of homelessness," said Sonia Frazer, with the Institute on Aging for Santa Clara County.  

Sonia Frazer is the Clinical Services Manager at the Institute on Aging. She says they’ve started a new program called Cal Aim, which partners with Santa Clara County’s Family Health Plan to serve the unhoused and its most vulnerable seniors.  

"You can’t just stick them in house and think that they’re going to get it. You have to do sustaining-housing where they know that they have to pay their bills, and they have to keep their place clean, and they have to be a good community member," Frazer said.    

The City of San Jose says three new senior housing sites will be completed this year, adding about 500 units. Still, advocates say a lot more housing and assistance will be needed to keep people in their homes.