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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Report: More seniors to be homeless by 2020

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
The Wichita Eagle

At 57, things are looking up for Richard Rittle, at least for the moment.

He's collecting veterans' benefits and, after a year and half of being in and out of homelessness, he plans to move into a $300-a-month apartment Thursday.

But, he said, for people his age who don't receive veterans benefits, it's more difficult.

"People that don't have any income are at the mercy of what's out there," he said.

Many more elderly Americans could face that uncertainty in coming years.

A report released Monday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness projects a 33 percent increase over the next decade in elderly people who are homeless.

That would mean that today's estimate of 44,172 homeless over age 62 would climb to 58,772.

Officials last year counted only nine homeless people over age 65 in Sedgwick County. But 39 people ages 55 to 64 reported being homeless, hinting at the potential for an increase.

The growth could have "huge implications" for everyone and should be seen as evidence that a more expansive safety net of social services will soon be needed, said Nan Roman, president of the alliance.

The nonprofit group recommends more subsidized housing for the elderly, more permanent housing for all ages and more research to better assess needs.

Pat Hanrahan, president of the United Way of the Plains, said he expects social services may need to change as the elderly homeless population grows.

"The older they get, they're just more fragile and you need a system there to watch for them and take care of them as their physical needs change and their mental needs as well," he said.

Deann Smith, executive director for United Methodist Open Door, said that the growth could lead to more expenses for everyone because many homeless rely on emergency room visits for health care.

"It's hard living on the streets," she said. "Whatever you and I have for health issues is just exacerbated on the streets."

Donald Edward Lee Schultz, 60, says he has spent almost half his adult life homeless. Some of that was in Colorado; some of it in Wichita.

He said he gets money from the Veterans Administration and feels fortunate compared with many of the people he sees at shelters and in meal lines.

But it's not enough, he said after lunch at Open Door in downtown Wichita.

Schultz said he often wondered about his generation's ability to sustain itself as American jobs moved overseas. And now he said he sees it getting worse with the recession.

Schultz, who said he has paranoid schizophrenia, said life can be rough on the streets.

His property has been stolen; he's battled about getting the proper health care, and he's been ticketed for being in city parks too late.

And even the shelters don't always offer the comfort he seeks. He said he recently spent a night at the Rescue Mission.

"The guys were snoring so loud, I couldn't sleep."

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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