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Monday, February 25, 2013

Older Women Facing Homelessness In Growing Numbers

A woman huddles on a street corner in San Francisco in January 2009. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

A woman huddles on a street corner in San Francisco in January 2009. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

By the end of this decade, estimates are that 60,000 or more elderly people will be homeless.

Life on the streets is particularly hard on older women who have more health problems and are very physically vulnerable.

With more and more older women facing economic instability, we ask: What should be done with an older woman who can’t afford a home of her own?

Let us know your thoughts on Facebook or in the comments.


  • Rose Aguilar, host of “Your Call” on KALW radio in San Francisco.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • olderworker

    How can this be? Isn’t there subsidized housing for older people? If there is not enough, shouldn’t we be building it NOW?

    • olderworker

      Okay, just heard the presenter’s stats on the waiting list! 24,000 on the list for housing? Is that just in San Francisco?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DPKS3HUGQBPILPIU7IVZSHGXLI Robert_N

       Presumably funding is an issue, and with political resistance to government spending on such programs, I’d guess that private charities will increasingly need to try to filling the gaps.

  • Mhowell

         Many years ago I read a book entitled “Shadow Women” by Marjorie Bard, which is really a precursor to Aguilar’s report. Take a look at it. I’m sure that if Aguilar did more research, she’d find more Shadow Women today.
         It’s not only mental health and domestic violence that render women poor and/or homeless. It’s the gendered economy and the gender and race wealth gaps over a lifetime. Some attention to the connection between the economy and women’s homelessness/poverty, esp in our elderly years, would have framed this report as a structural aspect of our economy.
         Women without mental health and/or domestic violence challenges have more resources to “craft” a way out of our sexist/racist economy. This does not change the fundamental sexism woven into our economy.  This report’s focus seemed to say that the problem is the result of the failings of individual women. Sadly, women are often judged by how well they do, or don’t, devise an individual solution, to a deeply structural problem in our economy.

    • Bandfprop

      Well put.  Ditto!!

    • Ljmagnuson

      She should be nominated for her selfless work helping others. Nobel Prize, Pulitzer, or something noteworthy. Her work is very important and very few people have ever heard of her …

      • Islandr

        That’s a very nice compliment, but I am just doing what I know best: providing advice and assistance to those who have not yet been “rescued” from abject poverty/living an alternative lifestyle. It isn’t a bad lifestyle for the rich who buy an expensive RV or Motorhome and go traveling for a long time, is it? Well; we just do it as poor people who have the guts to try to be self-sufficient. I have so many years of traveling to locate the undetectable homeless, interview them, film their locations (never faces), that it is a habit now! I have an e-doc on the web, but just type in my name on Google and you’ll find me and what I do all over the web….
        (Unfortunately, Google has decided to add Bard College to the list with my name, so most of my articles, etc., are way down the line of pages with my last name.)

  • new england

    I have a friend who lives in their car. She has a minium wage job and cannot afford rent. 

    • Macbevq

      If you called yourself her, “friend”, why would you allow her to live in her car??? Do you not have a couch or even an air mattress that she could sleep on. I wouldn’t want you as a friend.

      • Islandr

        I know you mean well, but one can’t offer housing and food forever to a friend, no matter how long or good that friendship is. If married, how can you ask a spouse to support another person? It isn’t really feasible to let someone live on a couch for a long period, and then how and when do you tell your friend when it’s time to go?
        We’re not talking about living with you for a few days, which may be possible if you are living alone. But most people have families and this arrangement just doesn’t work. The homeless person feels “in the way” and probably is. It can ruin a marriage or family life.
        Being a friend in your case would be to try to find a way for her/him to receive social services to make up for the low wage job.

  • Threwthecracks

    Hi I am in New York I am  a 56 year old disabled man and have recently in December  been evicted from my apartment for complaining too much about the horrible conditions the falling ceilings rats mice constant  ongoing flooding CO fumes from broken boiler and much much more which I have documentation,hundreds of photos and video,witnesses.  I was put on the streets with my two cats I am almost crippled I have problems walking and some times can not walk at all I have emphysema and need oxygen I suffer with severe depression but it does not matter I was put on the street My lawyer did not help actually she helped push me out the door she would not allow me to present my case to the judge nor have my say in court APS Adult Protective Services for the disabled  did very little never showed up when needed and did not show up nor answer phone till after I was put out then they finally showed up too late and then said since I am evicted my case is closed…I don’t get it..How can they make a person a disabled person homeless and in the middle of a housing homelessness crises after Sandy…What has become of this nation that allows this to happen to it’s disabled ??? I used to work all my life till I couldn’t anymore and I would if I could..There is no one to talk with here about this..I have been on the streets since December through the blizzard I will not go to a shelter and everything in NY is over crowded. I have no more medications and I don’t know where I can go to see a doctor because at the same time my insurance changed and needs help,I need help with it and many things but  there is no one to help to get help from I have called many places and people including commissioners and directors only to be bounced around like a pingpong ball.  This is so wrong I should not be homeless,everyone says that yes but I should not be have not been made to be there is no good reason for this except I complained..What is wrong with this system it is broken and I need help Its almost no one cares if i fall through the cracks..

    • Canuck Gramz

      I read your comment and I cried. I know I am so far away ( in northern bc, canada) but I wish I could help! It’s truly not fair! I think of my  mom and what she has gone through and I feel for you. I hope prayers can help.

    • Diaamazing

      have you tried local church organizations  non denominational christians?? evangelicals?? Seek Gods help he will guide you.  best of luck. you have my thoughts and prayers in your time of desperate need!

  • Lewis

    As its been said years ago concerning the homeless. They have no power when it comes to any political change. Thus they are stuck where they may be.
    Homeless people are powerless.

    A few words on that from 70 years ago.

    “When, through a process of law, the common people have lost their homes  they will be more tractable and more easily governed by the strong arm of the law, applied by the central power of wealth, under control of leading financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principal men now engaged in forming an imperialism of capitalism to govern the world.
    “By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us except as teachers of the common herd. Thus, by discreet action, we can secure for ourselves what has been generally planned and much of which has already been successfully accomplished.”

    From “Lightning Over the Treasury Building,”  by John R. Elsom. The Banker’s Manifesto circulated among the leading bankers only.

  • jadunnigandc

    I noticed this author is basing her reporting from San Francisco.  The sad truth is Homelessness is even more pronounced in San Francisco than she reports.  About 6 years ago I traveled to San Francisco, I woke up early about 4:30 AM for a jog and saw so many people sleeping in cars.  I even saw multiple motor homes parked on the street with extension cords plugging it into different buildings for power.  At that point I realized these people are homeless, and no matter how beautiful the city is, there is a serious homeless problem.  
    Is part the blame for this the high cost of living in SF.

    • http://www.studioclub.com/homeless/undetectablehomeless.htm Islandr

      I’m guessing you are referring to Aguilar, not to me.  I don’t know what she reported, and it is probable that she was/is in San Francisco.  I lived in Beverly Hills for 50 years and only visited SF many years ago.  Every major city now has an astounding amount of homeless people, mainly because they offer wrap-around services.  Small towns and rural areas have many less homeless people just because there are so few shelters and services. 

      The interesting fact is that are more undetectable homeless people than visible ones.  If one is stable, s/he learns how to play the game of “Masquerade” and fit into any scenario.  It is easier for women since they can fit into “women’s world” of malls, grocery stores, parks, libraries, and coffee shops during the day.  Men don’t usually wander the dept. stores during daytime.

      • Jadunnigandc

        I understand what you are saying, but California as a whole has a homeless problem period whether San Francisco or other cities, and part because of the opportunist who have inflated the cost of living.  I have traveled around our beautiful country and have never seen homelessness as bad as I have in California.  I read your part about masquerading the problem but certain things you cannot hide.

        • Islandr

          The huge number of people whom I can help are those who are stable, not “street people” who have some serious problem that they can’t hide. They are the previous homeowners, job holders, and have just lost everything through something like an illness and never being able to find another job, or ageism which takes away opportunities, or losing a home due to the death of a spouse and no Soc. Sec. benefit package, or a bad divorce which leaves the woman indigent, or…you get the picture.
          Masquerading is very easy for people who “know the ropes” re living in a particular area. They can remain or with mobility, move to another location. That is why they have alternative housing, as in an older RV, a converted van or truck, even a big car (minivan). Several were living out of Ferraris, the last thing they had, and couldn’t sell. I met almost 50 women all living, masquerading, in Beverly Hills and Bel Air in a matter of a year. Some were living right on UCLA’s large campus with many places to sleep, eat, and take classes if they wished to do so. A few were “hanging around” Malibu, living for awhile with a friend and then moving to a different part of the long beach area. There are places they know where they can park and not be noticed.
          When anyone speaks of masquerading, it means that the person has the knowledge to remain as one was when owning a home and holding a job. Women who were called “housewives” were really gourmet cooks, party caterers, chauffeurs, child care specialists, wound care experts, able to take care of home maintenance, etc. etc. They just pretend to live “normally,” but sleep in their vehicles on side streets.
          I masqueraded myself, so that is why I have devoted my life to letting everyone know how to manage this alternative lifestyle while creating their own little businesses from their vehicle. I created three. I made some money and could “move up the ladder” to a better business plan. It may sound “odd,” but millions of Americans are living this way, and not in any Mission district where the gov’t takes away your privacy and opportunities for regaining a “normal” lifestyle. Retirees who are wealthy do this without negative commentary. The poor who once “had a good life,” can do the same. They just have little money and have to call on creativity. I did, so anyone can.

  • Marjorie Bard

    I am Marjorie Bard, the author of SHADOW WOMEN: HOMELESS WOMEN’S SURVIVAL STORIES (Sheed & Ward, 1990) noted by MHowell.  I did reply to this message on some  site, and it did look like this particular comment.  I don’t see a Reply, though. That was my first book, followed by another and an e-doc on http://www.studioclub.com/homeless/undetectablehomeless.htm that covers personal stories of stable homeless women (and since 2004, men also) from 2002 to the present.

    I have established two tiny communities of stable undetectable homeless people, and plan for more of these self-sufficiency Green communities.  I don’t know who Aguilar is, so I have no comment about what she has reported.

    • Fdddfdd

      I can’t believe that Director took all the credit!!! But in Hollywood I can believe anything and everything in that city! I lived there and worked around those morally corrupt people! True talent will stand the test of time and leeches eventually fall off and die :(! Will never support any of her work ever!!!!!! Do you know what happened to all the ladies? I’m so curious. I heard about Lou :( I wished she could have hung in there, but God only knows what she has been through in her life. There are many Lou’s unfortunately. It’s just sad that this life caused her so much suffering and pain. I’m sure her homelessness was just the tip of the iceberg and there was so much more to her suffering.

      • Islandr

        Yes; I do know about what happened to the ladies in the film.  I am very disturbed that the one really “stable” undetectable homeless woman, Lou, committed suicide.  She is the only true example of what “undetectable” means, and the only example found by the director and producer of “It Was a Wonderful Life” – and I was never told about her.  The director knew that I could have helped her with housing immediately, and refused to even mention her to me.  That’s the worst kind of “help” that these filmmakers do: keep secrets that take lives.  They didn’t know anything about undetectable homeless people, took the help I gave from my book and my participation, and yet didn’t let me know about Lou.  When I heard about Lou’s suicide, I confronted the director, and she wouldn’t even discuss it with me, angrily saying it wasn’t my business!

        The “star” of the film was a very visible “street person,” not undetectable at all.  Her dirty, visible-junker station wagon was filled with garbage, indicating that she was seen as a “street person,” and immediately took away the topic of the film. I was astonished at the producer’s choice as a representative of a population that I had been working with for 15 years: all invisible to the world as homeless.

        The few other women were also not examples of the undetectable homeless who can mingle among us unnoticed.  As far as I can tell, they received no assistance from the director and producer and continue as before the filming.  Not one has had a better lifestyle after being shown and heard.

        While “Hollywood” filmmakers have their faults, people like Michael Moore make up for them by telling the truth and trying to make us aware of the real problems we face.  The producer and director of what was a terrible version of my book’s content had also been given the movie rights to my book in exchange for fundraisers for my nonprofit organization…and never fulfilled that promise.  I could have taken the many offers that provided contracts for a lot of money, but fell for the lies of the two women who begged for the rights for free.  I found the horrific examples of the “users” in Hollywood, and discovered what being used really means.  I wouldn’t trust anything they made before or after the disaster of what they did to an extremely serious societal problem in American life: homelessness. They lied and got away with it. I have never forgotten that Lou could be living normally now if only the director and producer had told me about her.  All she needed was a place to live; she could work just like anyone else.  I have wondered if the director has any honorable trait at all.

  • deborah

    I have 3 open beds at my house here in AZ 480-430-0027 deborah

  • Dawn Hall

    Can I get a transcript of the radio interview? It is not the same as what was published in The Nation. Thanks!

  • Ljmagnuson

    I have recently befriended the author of Shadow Women, who is still hard at work breaking down stereotypes and helping folks. Majorie should be nominated for a Nobel Prize for her work. Really. And I may just be the one to write to the Nobel folks and suggest it. The stereotypes people have about the homelessness are the BIGGEST thing they have between them and a job. Ideas that “homeless people” cannot and/or are unwilling to work. Bard breaks down this stereotype and shows that they DO want to work and are very capable of it. 

  • Kimiko Austin

    I am so glad that I found this. I will have to research this!

  • Deb

    Their is no help for the homeless or hope I know I live it every day

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