Homeless tents on set up on 16th Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

By Deacon Jim Vargas

It’s hard to imagine a person over 65 living on the streets. However, senior homelessness is a tragic reality. As poverty and homelessness continue to surge nationwide, the prospect of living on the streets is becoming real for many adults over the age of 50.

Father Joe’s Villages is working to raise awareness for seniors who are homeless, shining a spotlight on what has become a quiet epidemic.

“Remember that the clients we serve are someone’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends,” says Lauri, a program manager at Father Joe’s Villages. “We must treat everyone here as we would want someone to treat one of our own family members if they were in this situation—with compassion, empathy, empowerment, respect, and dignity.”

According to the 2018 point-in-time count from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, there are 1,747 people aged 55 and older living on the streets of San Diego on any given night— a 31 percent increase from 2016 and 9 percent increase from 2017. Many of these older adults are finding themselves homeless for the first time.

Seniors have a harder time adapting and often have health conditions aggravated by life on the streets. Seniors in their 50s and 60s who are homeless often face health issues comparable to those living in homes in their 70s and 80s. The truth of the matter is, the average life span of those living on the streets is significantly shorter than those who can find refuge in shelters.

Deacon Jim Vargas

Father Joe’s Villages ensures that in San Diego these seniors have all the resources they need for a better future, including making those most vulnerable a priority. We give people aged 70 and older intake priority for our short-term shelters and those with disabilities receive their meals first in our Franklin Antonio Public Lunch Program. In 2017, we provided services for 3,700 people aged 55 and older.

The dedicated team at our Village Family Health Center provides seniors experiencing homelessness with the physical and behavioral health care they might need.

Elizabeth, a senior currently living in our permanent housing, came to Father Joe’s Villages after a battle with bacterial meningitis and two heart surgeries. She visits the Village Family Health Center weekly to ensure her blood levels are normal, to check her heart rate and to make sure she is getting the proper nutrition she needs. “Father Joe’s Villages saved my life,” Elizabeth says. “Your generosity is helping me to stand on my own.”

Additionally, our Dental Clinic offers restorative dentistry and full/partial dentures to help restore their ability to eat and speak. If needed, seniors have access to addiction and mental health treatment and other services.

These life-changing programs are only possible because of the dedicated Village Family Health Center staff who bring their compassion to work each day along with their expertise. Elizabeth and the entire team at Father Joe’s Villages continue to rely on our community to create a San Diego where everyone has a place to call home.

As you count your blessings this holiday season, empower people experiencing poverty and homelessness to achieve a new life of self-sufficiency. You can change lives. I invite anyone interested in making an impact to register for our annual Thanksgiving Day 5k or visit neighbor.org to choose a first step to getting involved.

Deacon Jim Vargas is president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages. 

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