More Silicon Valley seniors are becoming homeless

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Struggling to make a living and plagued by abusive relationships, San Jose native Brenda Nichols fell into alcoholism and homelessness where she has spent the past 10 years fighting for a way out. In 2019, she finally qualified for housing and was ready to turn her life around. But years of drinking and living on the streets finally caught up with her.

She never made it, dying in December 2020 from a blood clot in her throat at age 55.

Nichols leaves behind her grieving daughter and grandchildren with photos of happier times, her rosemary cross and a voicemail saying she loved them. Nichols is part of the money tsunami, where people over the age of 50 are falling into homelessness and getting lost in the cracks of society at an alarming rate.

“My mother would have stayed alive if the county and the hospitals had helped her when she needed it,” said her daughter Angelina Guzman Rodriguez told San Jose Spotlight earlier this year through tears. “I couldn’t even say goodbye. I couldn’t be there for my mother.

Angelina Guzman Rodriguez has set up a place dedicated to her mother in her Gilroy apartment. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Nichols was among 145 homeless seniors who died in Santa Clara County between December 2020 and November 2021 — a record number as the region recorded 250 homeless deaths during the same period. The money tsunami phenomenon is growing, proponents said. Their demographics include 58% of Santa Clara County’s homeless population — aged 50 or older — who have died so far in 2022.

“There’s nothing here to help them,” said attorney Shaunn Cartwright, who collects data on homeless deaths and organizes the annual homeless memorial. “Unless something drastically changes, we will see more and more old people dying.”

The homeless population has aged in Silicon Valley in recent years. According to the county, people ages 51 and older accounted for 40% of the homeless population in 2019. As the housing crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to drive up rents and drain local safety nets, the defenders said. more seniors are falling into chronic homelessness, and they can’t get out of it. Surviving on the streets has taken its toll. Many have turned to alcohol, drugs and sometimes suicide, all of which contribute to rising death rates.

Residents stood in somber silence outside a memorial for those who died on the streets of Silicon Valley in December 2021. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

A difficult battle

Santa Clara County, one of the wealthiest regions in the country, is racing to deal with a homelessness crisis that has exploded in recent years with more shelter beds and supportive housing , Deputy County Executive Ky Le told San Jose Spotlight.

“The problem is the lack of permanent affordable housing for seniors with health conditions or disabilities,” Le said. “The solution is to have more housing there.”

Supportive housing comes with affordable rents — about 30% of a tenant’s income — and on-site services that could help meet tenants’ health needs, Le added.

The county recorded 9,706 homeless people in 2019, and this year’s tally is being analyzed. Data recently discussed at a meeting hosted by the County Office of Supportive Housing reveals that more than 30,100 homeless people have sought help in the South Bay over the past six years.

With an unprecedented amount of money from the $950 million Measure A housing bond passed by voters in 2016, the county is funding thousands of affordable housing units, including 1,800 permanent support units that would target older people with health problems. So far, 478 support units have been completed.

“We can continue to build on what we’re doing,” supervisor Susan Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. She added that the county is investing $40 million in housing for seniors with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Since 2020, the county has taken 6,353 households off the streets, according to the data. In 2021, more than 500 people age 45 and older have come off the streets and found housing, according to the county.

Angelina Guzman Rodriguez said her mother struggled with alcoholism and homelessness for years before succumbing to her disease. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Beyond housing needs

But the challenges facing older people also go beyond the housing crisis, advocates and experts have said. Many seniors have no savings and depend on social security checks that barely cover their food and basic needs. They are further burdened with the physical and mental illnesses that accompany old age and street life.

That was Nichols’ fate. She suffered from thyroid disorders and cirrhosis of the liver. She went to the emergency room several times where she was turned away before succumbing to her illness, Rodríguez said.

Even when a senior has access to affordable housing, they likely need additional subsidies and supportive care.

“If they are frail and vulnerable, or have health issues later in life, I think they will need even more help once they are in housing,” Ray said. Bramson, Destination’s COO. : Home Columnist and San José Spotlight.

Nichols’ younger sister, who is in her 40s, was also homeless in San Jose but was lucky to find housing, Rodriguez said.

“What’s the difference between them?” Rodríguez said. “I feel like they pick and choose who they want to help.”

Ronnie Martinez and his mother Linda have been homeless for years. After suffering seizures, Linda, 73, was discharged from hospital to the streets with nowhere to go until lawyers intervened. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Not enough care

Alpana Agarwal, founder of the nonprofit Helping Hands Silicon Valley, said the lack of care for the elderly has also fueled a lack of trust among the population.

“They saw so many broken promises,” Agarwal told San José Spotlight. “They have been disappointed so many times that some are now refusing help.”

She works with Rose Gregorio, a registered nurse and homeless advocate in Sunnyvale, to help a mother-son duo who have been homeless for years.

Linda Martinez, 73, was recently hospitalized in Sunnyvale due to seizures, but was returned to the streets with nowhere to go. Her adult son Ronnie, who is also homeless, has mild autism. They were already on a waiting list to get into a local shelter, but the facility wouldn’t take them citing a capacity issue, Gregorio said. They stay at a hotel after Gregorio sets up a GoFundMe page.

“It shouldn’t take four or five people, pulling our own connections, to get help,” Gregorio told San Jose Spotlight. She pushed county and city officials to intervene without success – calling only for the county’s homeless hotline to ring with no one answering.

Ronnie Martinez with Rose Gregorio, Registered Nurse and Homeless Advocate in Sunnyvale. Gregorio started a GoFundMe to help Ronnie and his mom pay for a motel room. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Linda Martinez, visibly shaky at the thought of being homeless again, said she only receives $1,006 a month from Social Security checks.

“Why don’t they help us? ” She cried.

Angelina Guzman Rodriguez brought her two daughters, Alexis and Allisa in a park to celebrate her mother’s birthday in February. Photo courtesy of Angelina Guzman Rodriguez.

In Gilroy, Rodriguez now spends her days wondering how she could have done more to save her mother. She recently took her two teenage daughters, Alexis and Allisa, to a nearby park to celebrate Nichols’ birthday.

“My mom used to sit at that gas station in San Jose,” Rodríguez said. “I always look for her every time I pass by.”


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