Hawaii's Growing Number of Homeless Seniors

Published: Jul. 31, 2012 at 5:17 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 31, 2012 at 9:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of Hawaii seniors receive shelter and outreach assistance from the state's homeless program each year. This week, Hawaii News Now, in conjunction with the Aloha United Way, presents "Seniors in Crisis". Here, we take a closer look at how the high cost of housing can leave our kupuna without a place to live – or, dangerously close to being on the streets.

Last year, almost 400 individuals served by the state's shelter program were over age 60. With one-bedroom apartments averaging about $1,500 a month here, just "making rent" can be a challenge.

66 year old Don Jackson, a gruff, gray-haired man in Kakaako, has lived on the streets for decades. He deals with bad weather and bullies and inadequate healthcare. "I take each second, each minute, each hour that I'm glad I'm still alive," says Jackson.

People age much faster out on the streets, and outreach workers say symptoms of early dementia are common. They also raise concerns about a growing demographic. "We've discovered some very much older women, like in their 70's, even 80's, on the street - who've been there for years," explains Connie Mitchell, Executive Director of IHS. "And that is not a way for people to be living out their later years here."

A big problem stems from housing affordability. Seniors living in subsidized housing - often on fixed incomes - are subject to annual inspections. Many times, they're too sick or frail to upkeep their homes. Stella Wong from Catholic Charities says, "We're finding more and more seniors are being evicted because they hoard things. They can't keep it clean."

Catholic Charities estimates Hawaii has about 2,000 homeless seniors or hidden homeless – those who live in garages or on couches of family and friends. But if they overstay their welcome, out they go - exposing them to more difficulties and dangers.

Mitchell adds, "They are very vulnerable because inevitably, if you spend any significant time on the streets, you will be a victim of violence. Somebody's going to beat you or take your things."

Service agencies try to make these older clients a priority, get them into housing and, if necessary, treated for mental illness. 63 year old Thomas Taum is one of those seniors. The Institute for Human Services found him a Waikiki apartment and got him on depression medication. But Taum also had to "want it" after being homeless for years.

He says, "When I went out on the street, you know, that's where I put myself. I knew that. And that didn't bother me at all, but then, I said, 'Enough is enough'." Taum now lives on $1,100 a month through social security and Medicaid and asks for help whenever he needs it.

The Aloha United Way has a one-stop shop for seniors and caregivers to get help from and referrals to thousands of agencies. Just dial 2-1-1.

And, here's how you can help our seniors. To donate just $10, please text 2-7-7-2-2 and put AUW in the subject line. You're invited to text multiple times - to give as much as you can.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.