The Silent Crisis of Homelessness Among Massachusetts Seniors
The landscape of homelessness in Massachusetts is undergoing a significant transformation, with older adults facing an escalating threat due to the soaring costs of housing. Recent investigative research conducted by 5 Investigates sheds light on this growing crisis, particularly in Boston, where a majority of individuals seeking shelter services are now seniors. The stories of Pat Connolly and Mike Montanino, two seniors who grappled with homelessness, underscore the challenges faced by older adults in the state.
Pat Connolly, a 63-year-old lifelong Bostonian, was a skilled painter until his life took a turn for the worse. Struggling with health issues such as herniated disks, knee problems, bipolar disorder, and neurological injuries, he found himself drowning in medical bills and unable to keep up with Boston's exorbitant living costs. Connolly, identified as chronically homeless by city officials, spent six years sleeping in various shelters before finding stability in permanent housing provided by Pine Street Inn. His journey highlights the importance of supportive housing programs in assisting older adults like him.
Similarly, Mike Montanino, a 65-year-old Navy veteran, faced eviction when a developer purchased his South Boston home. Despite working hard, paying bills on time, and leading a stable life, he and his wife found themselves abruptly without a home. Montanino's experience underscores the vulnerability of older adults to housing instability, as landlords often prefer younger tenants who can potentially yield higher profits. Fortunately, Montanino found help through a state senator and the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation, securing a home in Patriot Homes for Veterans, a housing complex designed for veterans and their families with below-median incomes.
The plight of Connolly, Montanino, and countless other seniors in Massachusetts highlights the urgent need for comprehensive solutions. Boston University School of Social Work associate professor Thomas Byrne, along with a team of researchers, conducted a study focusing on Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. Their research predicts a three-fold increase in the number of older homeless adults in Boston between 2017 and 2030, indicating that the issue is not limited to Massachusetts but is a national concern.
Byrne emphasizes the moral and practical imperatives of addressing elderly homelessness. Providing housing for older adults not only aligns with societal values but also makes financial sense, as it prevents expensive expenditures on shelter, healthcare, and nursing home costs. He advocates for the expansion of federal housing supports, particularly subsidies, as a short-term solution to help seniors cope with rising rents. Additionally, Byrne suggests adopting successful models, such as the Veteran Affairs program, which combines housing with comprehensive case management and support, significantly reducing homelessness among veterans.
While Massachusetts boasts a state-funded rental subsidy program, Byrne stresses the need for broader federal intervention. He calls for a substantial expansion of assisted housing programs and emphasizes the urgency of targeted initiatives specifically tailored for older adults. As the demand for affordable housing continues to outstrip supply, immediate action is crucial to ensure the well-being and security of older adults in the face of homelessness. Addressing this pressing issue requires a coordinated effort from federal, state, and local authorities to provide meaningful solutions for the vulnerable elderly population in Massachusetts and across the nation.