For five years I volunteered with Helping Hands at St. Peter’s, a ministry that serves early morning meals to our local unhoused neighbors. The goal has been to provide the basics for survival and an entry to social service supports. Del Mar resident and social worker, Julie Kawasaki, and her social work student enrolled guests with health and food entitlement benefits, arranged health, mental health, and dental care referrals, and connected with County Outreach workers for housing navigation.
During the time of my service, eight of our guests became housed – either in project-based voucher senior housing programs, nonprofit permanent supportive senior housing, shared housing, long-term single-room occupancy hotels or veterans rent assistance housing. All had been unhoused for many years and were seniors.
What did I learn from the many conversations with my unhoused friends? I learned that anyone has the potential to become unhoused at some fracturing point in life, particularly when reaching one’s senior years. Falling into homelessness is often preceded by successive vulnerabilities with health and mental health that disrupt work and income coupled with a weak safety net – loss of family members, inflating housing expenses, and our inadequate disability and social security benefits. Residing in a community with an evaporating housing stock is key to housing insecurity.
This is even more so for individuals leaving an institutional setting such as incarceration or jail, a lengthy hospitalization or rehab program, skilled nursing setting, and drug treatments facilities. These settings may neglect to have housing arranged and thus present the likelihood of becoming unsheltered.
Looking more closely at our unhoused guests at St. Peter’s, it became evident to me that many had a local work history and suffered work injuries or had a catastrophic health event with no health benefits or disability insurance. Typically, they never had the privilege of generational wealth such as property ownership. The early death or estrangement from family members left many untethered. And the factor of race weighs heavily. Becoming unsheltered opened the flood of stressors that rapidly degraded health, mental health and psychological resilience.
Housing has become unavailable or unattainable for the low income. Our already prosperous community creates more wealth by inflating the cost of housing. The fundamental right to have a home has not been guaranteed in our country. But everyone’s well-being requires secure housing to thrive.
Many individuals have been failed, and many communities such as Del Mar fail to contribute to real solutions. In the next issue, I will write about our seniors who become unhoused and how a community like Del Mar could respond.