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The "Forgotten Folks": Homeless seniors are the new face of homelessness

by Taylor Orci | Off-Ramp®

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The homeless elderly population is expected to reach nearly 89 million nationally by 2050

Last week we brought you the story of Elena Mays, a woman turning 77 next month who found herself homeless for the first time. Her move out date into permanent housing was slated for Thanksgiving Day, but as of this writing, Elena is still waiting. The stress of her situation has caused her to be admitted to the hospital two times in five months. 

Tom Wukawitz, Client Services Program Manager for Good Shepherd Center says the only thing unusual about Elena's case is how common it is. He's speaking about the increase he's seen in senior citizens who are not in stable housing. "They're the forgotten age group. They are the forgotten folks of society."

A 2010 study conducted by the Homeless Research Institute shows Americans over the age of 65 without stable housing is expected to reach roughly 89 million nationwide by 2050.

Denise Cohen, Shelter Manager of the Languille Emergency Shelter, part of Good Shepherd Center agrees what's happening at the shelter is happening everywhere.

"I got to a lot of community network type meetings with people like myself, and we do talk about issues like this," she says. Cohen cites the issue in Westwood of the eviction of more than 150 vulnerable tenants in a senior living facility, one of which is a Holocaust survivor.

"Who's going to help a 99 year old man apartment hunt?" She asks. "I call this the new face of the homeless." 

Shelter Manager Denise Cohen takes a moment for a much needed laugh
Shelter Manager Denise Cohen takes a moment for a much needed laugh Taylor Orci/KPCC

The new face of the homeless for Cohen isn't just about age. It's also about the newness. The women who've sought shelter at Good Shepherd, and other shelters in Souther California, are homeless for the first time, like Elena Mays.

"For the first time ever women who've always had their own home-- women who've always been independent are finding themselves not being able to take care of themselves and are loosing their homes," adds Cohen. "They don't look stereotypically homeless. They look like women in my life."

You can donate to Good Shepherd Center by clicking here.  They also accept drop off donations for the Languille Emergency Shelter at: 267 N. Belmont Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90026. Cohen recommends calling the shelter at (213) 250-5241 to coordinate drop off. As far as suggestions for goods are concerned Cohen says, "We can never have enough shampoo. Travel size bottles are great." 

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