Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Screed on Ageism

It’s that time of year—when people decry the war on Christmas. Lately, though, I’ve been noticing another war, a silent war—on the elderly.

This is not exactly a marginal population, but rather a sizeable chunk of America. Actually world-wide demographics are shifting as young people are delaying marriage, children, often times full-time employment. The recession/depression probably has a lot to do with this. But the Baby Boomers were always going to get older, always going to suck the life out of Medicare and Social Security.

Between the shelter (CCO) and a retirement community where I write up resident’s life stories (Friendly Towers), I know quite a few seniors on fixed incomes. There really isn’t a lot of extra. This month both of these programs have been impacted by a war on the elderly.

At CCO the director has been very deliberate about going out to the parks, the loading docks of abandoned warehouses, searching under the city’s viaducts for people sleeping rough, out in the cold and all kinds of weather. She has had to convince many of these homeless individuals to come to the shelter. I really can’t get into all the causes of homelessness. There are many. But suffice it to say that many of these people just want to be left alone. They’ve been alone for years, and now many are aging out in the parks, out in the dark. Quite a few are dying. Cancer, etc.

After some coaxing Sandy Ramsey recruited a few of these individuals and allotted space at the shelter where they could live out their last days. Literally. Between ignoring health danger signs and the years of sleeping rough, many of these men and women are in frail condition. One problem is that quite a few of them have fallen into the cracks—of a government system set up with safety nets. For one reason or another they’ve been unable to collect benefits or have no permanent address in which to receive mail. Or have been cut off.

Now this program at the shelter is being shut down. Neighborhood politics, basically Not In My Backyard, has put external pressure on the shelter to clear out the older men. The alderman put a deadline: by the end of the year. Merry Christmas! and, by the way, good riddance. Sandy and other CCO staff have been working tirelessly to find studios, small subsidized apartments for these guys.

That’s the other squeaky wheel. Many of the units that once were available for those on fixed incomes has been consistently dwindling in Chicago. In the Uptown neighborhood alone there has been a marked decrease. There are senior buildings with long waiting lists and that require supplemental income. Anyone trying to survive on their SS check alone have very little choice. In addition, a real estate company has been buying up SROs (single room occupancy, perfect for individuals on fixed income, much like a hotel room) and converting them to FLATS. Which is what? It’s still just a small studio, literally a 12 x 12 room—for young renters looking for something a step up from a hostel, giving them flexibility without complicated leases and with all the modern amenities—cable and wireless. Some even come furnished. This is a great no-hassle idea—for about $1000 - $1,300 a month. Before the rehab they were maybe $350 – 400 a month—for our clients this was DO-ABLE.

At Friendly Towers many of the residents are seeing cuts in benefits, lose of food stamps. Without getting into particulars, it seems like a shame. Are these really the people to target to reduce government waste?

Now I’m hearing on TV that Congress wants to raise the minimum age for Social Security and Medicare to 67. Why not 70 or 79 or 100? Some of the seniors I know have been waiting years for health care, for dental work, for cost of living increases. They are just getting by. And, of course, I’m not getting any younger either. I’m at the tail-end of the Baby Boomer Boom, and will likely have no place I can afford to live, minimal benefits (if any), and a healthcare system riddled with co-pays and complicated paperwork. Thank God for generics!

So this season say a prayer for older people. The ones whose Christmas is looking a little shaky and the future not so bright.
Successfully housed

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