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Queens Chronicle

PRIME TIMES: 60 Plus Number of homeless seniors on the rise

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019 10:30 am

Longtime Long Island City resident Melanie Lee has been through the homeless system and back and knows all too well what so many of her fellow senior citizens face on a daily basis.

“I had difficulty keeping up with the expenses of the house,” she explained of a family residence in Corona, where she had lived on and off with her mother since 1984. “My family decided it was too much to maintain and sold it.”

So, in 2014, Lee found herself without a place to call home.

“I wasn’t making enough money,” she said. She eventually made her way to a shelter in the Bronx; a short time later she transferred to another facility in the same borough, where she remained for just over a year. She then entered a halfway house in Jamaica where she stayed for a short while. Then her sister took her in.

Lee now lives in a two-room attic apartment in her sister’s house in East Elmhurst, seemingly no worse for wear.

“I did fairly well,” she said. “I was put in a room they called the medical room.” Lee, now 62, is overweight and walks with a cane, so she qualified for the space which holds 24 beds, dedicated to people with chronic ailments.

“They kept the temperature in the summer so cold people had to have comforters,” she said. In winter, it was extremely hot. She recalled that certain amenities were taken away — the microwave, an exercise room, and “there were not as many activities” as she would have wanted.

But she did attend a group for writers, run by a social worker, which provided her with “one very positive experience” of being homeless. After she left the system, she was asked to speak at a conference for authors in training.

Finding oneself without a place to live, for whatever reason, is, unfortunately, becoming more and more commonplace. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, a not-for-profit advocacy group, “In recent years, homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression.” According to its website, in June, 60,849 homeless people were sleeping each night in the city’s municipal shelter system, based on information from the NYC Department of Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration and NYCStat shelter Census reports.

Among those hit hardest are the elderly.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 553,000 Americans were homeless last year, according to Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens. He added in a prepared statement that “half of them were over 50 years of age and studies show that the 50-plus segment of the homeless population is likely to triple over the next ten years. In 1990, only 11% of the homeless population was 50 or older.”

“Senior homelessness is not just people who are down on their luck and without any finances,” said Bruce Cunningham, executive director of the Queens Interagency Council on Aging. “Homelessness is growing because seniors on fixed income are being priced out of the rental housing market.”

The issue is one that will be front and center at QICA’s annual legislative forum, to be held on Oct. 11. The first draft of the organization’s position paper reads, in part, “Seniors, though among the most vulnerable of the city’s citizens, have been virtually ignored in the planning for affordable housing. Although New York’s senior population is made up primarily of renters living alone and poor, efforts to deal with this housing crisis are woefully inadequate.”

In addition, the paper points out, “Many seniors live in apartments that cannot meet their changing needs as they become more frail and disabled.”

Echoing the sentiments of the Coalition for the Homeless, Cunningham concluded, “We are faced as a society with a conundrum that I don’t think has existed since the Depression of the 1930s. The working-class retired poor have little to fall back on because they no longer [have income] enough to sustain their health and well-being. Let’s pray the day does not arrive again that they are faced with standing in lines.”

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