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Retiring into Homelessness

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    Karla Finocchio describes living in her truck in Phoenix, Arizona. She now has temporary housing at a shelter. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
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    Karla Finocchio holds a picture of her dog in her modest home at Ozanam Manor temporary housing for older persons. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
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    Karla Finocchio poses for a photo in her apartment at Ozanam Manor. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
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    Karla Finocchio talks about being homeless. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
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    Lovia Primous, 67, walks in front of Ozanam Manor. A stroke cost the 67-year-old Army veteran his job. He slept in his Honda Accord before being referred to the transitional shelter. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
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Karla Finocchio slept in a truck. The 55-year-old’s life hasn’t always been this rough. But like others suddenly without a permanent home after job losses, family crises, or health emergencies, she’s part of a rapidly expanding group of destitute and desperate older Americans.

After back surgery, Finocchio ended up sleeping in her old pickup protected by her German shepherd mix Scrappy. She had planned to use her disability check to get an apartment. But she couldn’t afford housing in Phoenix, Arizona, where average monthly rents soared during the pandemic.

Finocchio isn’t alone.

“Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart,” the saying goes. Being elderly and homeless goes beyond difficult. What a comfort that this world isn’t a Christian’s final abode! Instead, Jesus promises an everlasting home for those who trust Him. (John 14:2-3)

“We’re seeing a huge boom in senior homelessness,” says Kendra Hendry, a caseworker at Arizona’s largest shelter. “These are not necessarily people who have mental illness or substance abuse problems. They are people being pushed into the streets by rising rents.”

Experts project that senior homeless numbers in the United States will nearly triple—from 40,000 to 106,000—over the next decade. So policymakers—as well as families and churches—nationwide must imagine new ideas for sheltering the last of the baby boomers (born 1946-1964). As this generation gets older and sicker, many within it are less able to pay skyrocketing rents.

In addition, many of today’s aging homeless have mental illnesses, mobility struggles, and chronic health problems such as diabetes. A significant number contracted COVID-19 or couldn’t work because of pandemic restrictions, setting them back even farther financially.

Cardelia Corley, 65, ended up on the streets of Los Angeles County after she lost hours at her telemarketing job.

“I’d always worked, been successful, put my kid through college,” the single mother says. “All of a sudden, things went downhill.”

Corley rode buses and commuter trains all night to catnap.

“I would go to Union Station downtown and wash up in the bathroom,” she says. Corley recently moved into a small apartment with help from The People Concern, a Los Angeles nonprofit.

The problems are especially apparent with younger baby boomers, now in their late 50s to late 60s. About half have no retirement savings, according to U.S. census data.

The average monthly Social Security retirement payment as of December was $1,658. That “average” means many older homeless people have much smaller checks because they worked fewer years or earned less than others.

Physician Margot Kushel researches homelessness. “We are seeing that retirement is no longer the golden dream,” she says. “A lot of the working poor are destined to retire onto the streets.”

Why? Getting old should glorify God! At life’s end, Christians embrace gratefulness, love, and a desire to make God’s greatness known to following generations. At the same time, God calls His people to care for others, especially fellow believers and their own families. (1 Timothy 5:8, Galatians 6:10)

Pray to be sensitive to the needs, physical and spiritual, of those around us, and to act to bring mercy when appropriate.