On a recent rainy afternoon in this small town just outside Glacier National Park, Lisa Beaty and Kim Hilton were preparing to sell most of their possessions before moving out of their three-bedroom rental home and two bathrooms.
Hilton, who was recovering from a broken leg, watched from her recliner as her friends and family sorted through old hunting gear, jewelry, furniture and clothing. “The only thing that’s not for sale is the house – everything else has to go,” said Hilton, 68, as she checked her blood sugar.
Hilton suffers from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health issues that left him disabled and unable to work for years. For income, he relies on federal disability benefits. Due to a shoulder injury and fibromyalgia, Beaty, 64, Hilton’s partner of seven years, also suffers. Together, their income is around $1,500 per month.
This is no longer enough, however. The investors bought their home this year and increased the rent by $1,000 including utilities to $1,800 plus the cost of utilities.
“They’re not kicking me out – on a fixed income I can’t do that,” Beaty said as she sorted her things.
They have nowhere to go. And they weren’t just losing their home: the stress of the ordeal drove them to end their relationship. Beaty planned to move into her daughter’s one-bedroom apartment.
Despite his poor health and still relying on braces to avoid another broken leg, Hilton, who has Medicare, planned to live in his truck while waiting for a spot to become available in one of the few assisted living facilities in Flathead County. , essentially rural. The wait can last for days or even months.
Beaty and Hilton are part of a recent wave of homelessness among people over 60. The housing affordability crisis, caused in part by the covid-19 pandemic, and high inflation are eating away at their fixed incomes. Although data is limited, senior and homeless advocates say more adults are showing up at shelters across the country.
The problem is particularly acute in Montana, where snow has started to fly as the long Rocky Mountain winter sets in.
Rents in Montana have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. Since 2019, Lewis and Clark County, for example, has seen rental costs jump 37%, one of the biggest spikes in the United States, according to data from research firm CoStar Group published by the Washington Post. Nationally, rents increased by 11% on average in 2021.
The rapid growth of Montana and elsewhere in the Mountain West region has been driven in part by an influx of high-paying remote workers, drawn to the great outdoors and plentiful recreational opportunities in communities that were plagued by housing shortages even before the pandemic. Kalispell, the largest city in Flathead County, is the fastest growing city in the United States with fewer than 50,000 residents, according to Census Bureau data.
Inflation and rising rents are leaving many older Americans on the brink of ruin. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and over has fallen from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021, according to Ramsey Alwin, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.
Alwin said people who depend on traditional retirement income, such as Social Security, struggle to afford basic necessities. “You’ll find that individuals often lack about $1,000 a month to meet their true needs,” she said.
As a result, many older people have to make difficult choices about whether to pay for daily needs such as food and medicine or rent. Others simply cannot spend their money and have to leave their homes. An upcoming 8.7% increase in Social Security benefits based on the cost of living will help offset the effects of inflation, which was 8.2% for the 12 months to September. But Alwin said that will not be enough to stem the tide of older people losing their homes due to rising rental prices.
Montana is home to one of the oldest populations in the country. According to a recent survey of seniors in the state, about 44% had difficulty finding housing in the past year and only 10% considered housing affordable.
Emergency homeless shelters in Montana and across the country are reporting that more and more seniors have shown up at their doors over the past year, many of whom could no longer pay rent or could not unable to find a new place to live after closing their homes. sold under them, said Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Berg said it’s impossible to tell how many older people are going homeless for the first time because the national homeless count doesn’t break down the number of people 25 and older into smaller age groups. and other data are not precise enough to differentiate between people who lose their homes. for the first time with chronically homeless seniors.
Community organizers who work directly with homeless people have a deep understanding of how the trend is manifesting in their area.
At the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana, people in their 60s have become the second age group served by the shelter, said program director Lisa Sirois. She said she saw people in their 80s and 90s with no place to go and the shelter had to turn some away because it was not designed for their needs.
Wheelchair users find it difficult to navigate narrow hallways, she said, and the shelter’s elevator often breaks down, forcing people to use the stairs to access its dorms. Dorms are lined with bunk beds, which also present challenges.
“Elderly guests or people with disabilities generally cannot make an upper berth,” Sirois said.
Brian Guyer, director of the housing department at the Human Resource Development Council Bozeman, said when his shelter cannot serve an older person, he must also ask the person to leave. One memory that still haunts him, he said, is of an older man who froze to death three days after he was refused a place at the Bozeman shelter because he was incontinent and had problems. of mobility. “He was actually found outside a Lowe’s store here in Bozeman,” Guyer said.
And with the growing elderly homeless population, its already overworked and underpaid staff cannot care for everyone, he said.
To avoid the worst outcomes, state and national groups are proposing a series of changes.
The Montana Coalition to Solve Homelessness, a new organization that plans to lobby on behalf of shelter providers during the legislative session that begins in January, wants the state to change its Medicaid program to make shelters eligible for funding. They would use the money to provide Medicaid services that could help seniors living in a shelter or pay for case management services to help seniors navigate benefit programs that provide food assistance and subsidized housing or to find assisted living facilities and retirement homes.
But the number of places available in these facilities is decreasing. Nationwide, retirement home closures have displaced thousands of residents. In Montana, eight nursing homes have closed this year or are expected to close by the end of December, according to Montana health officials. Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association, said other facilities struggle to keep their doors open because Medicaid reimbursement rates are often lower than their operating costs.
Other advocacy organizations want to focus on economic stabilization initiatives that would help seniors stay in their homes. One idea is to change the way Social Security payments are calculated by linking them to the Elder Index, an online calculator that estimates living expenses by location. But that would require congressional approval.
“Your current housing is your best chance of keeping housing for this population,” said Mark Hinderlie, CEO of Hearth, which focuses on senior homelessness nationally.
Then there’s increasing the supply of housing, which most people believe is a long-term solution. In Montana, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is proposing policies that would create incentives to encourage more apartments to be built at market price. But critics say developers are unlikely to create enough subsidized housing themselves.
For Hilton, any kind of open housing unit can’t come soon enough. As he leaned against his truck in the driveway of his old house, he hugged Beaty as she sobbed into his shoulder before they parted ways.
He went looking for a place to camp, awaiting a call from a local assisted living facility with an opening. He hoped that call would come before the winter temperatures set in.
This story is part of a partnership that includes Montana Public Radio, NPR and KHN.
This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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