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San Diego to lose vital service for seniors

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Each day, homeless seniors seek help at Senior Community Centers and with other social service organizations. Most of these men and women are good people who have done the “right” thing only to have life intervene. Health problems or loss of job are typically the culprits for senior homelessness.

With the rapid growth of the senior population over the next few years, the treatment of senior homelessness needs critical attention. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, senior homelessness is projected to increase by 33 percent by the year 2020 and more than double by the year 2050.

For the past decade, Senior Community Centers has employed a housing first model of providing shelter to local seniors who are homeless through our Transitional Housing Program (THP). Funded through a unique joint venture between the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego and our organization, the THP program has earned critical success and is a model that has successfully ended chronic homelessness for many seniors in our community. Unfortunately the City’s share, which paid for the rooms, utilized redevelopment funds from the Centre City Development Corporation. Earlier this year, thanks to a ruling by the California Supreme Court, all redevelopment agencies in the State ceased to exist – and with it funding for programs like THP.

The end of redevelopment funding has quite an impact on San Diego’s social service organizations. This story has not been told extensively, and we’re here to raise this red flag. In our case, the end of redevelopment means THP will cease the intake of new clients as of June 1. More severely, if alternate funding sources are not found, THP will close for business on Aug. 31.

More than 90 percent of the homeless seniors who come into THP are permanently transitioned from the street into stable, long-term housing with supportive services. The Transitional Housing Program is different than other homeless programs as seniors, especially homeless seniors, often need special attention for specific needs. Many do not do well in traditional shelter environments.THP is not a temporary “fix,” but a permanent solution. It actually solves the problem because it addresses the root cause of the homelessness and is highly cost-effective, especially when you consider the cost of having a homeless senior on the street:

* According to United Way of San Diego County, the annual cost to provide care for just one homeless person is $50,000. THP is typically a 90-day transition period.

* Based on the United Way figures, the cost for a homeless person on the street for 90 days is $12,500, as opposed to $2,500 for THP to transition that person into stable, supportive housing.

Senior Community Centers’ THP just celebrated its 10th anniversary and was honored by the San Diego City Council with a proclamation for its success and providing over 113,550 “bed nights” of housing for homeless seniors since its inception. We have a system in place to continue our work without interruption if funding can be found. The costs associated with continuing the program are a fraction of the costs that will potentially burden the community should the program close. Keeping the program going will literally save taxpayer dollars. If THP goes away, the burden of caring for these seniors is shifted to other, already overloaded, homeless agencies and the City of San Diego’s police, fire and paramedic services.

We are currently working on some solutions that may keep a limited number of units available. However, if this funding were to come through, it might not be until early 2013. We are seeking corporate and foundation support whose generosity can help keep this program alive. Also, we ask that supporters contact local elected officials and let them know how important this program is to the community. Implore them to dig deep into their coffers to find the necessary funds. To do otherwise, is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

No one ever believes homelessness will happen to them. But it can. The program will save lives. It could potentially save your life and the life of someone you love.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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