Housing woes hamper seniors Some help available, but ‘happy endings’ not assured

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Events that disrupt life hit even harder when they happen to senior citizens, especially when those events push seniors out of their homes.

Divorce, eviction and loss of income are among the life-changing events. But where do seniors go when they’re out of options and running out of time?

“We certainly have housing lists we give out to people, but most everybody has a waiting list right now,” said Barbara Bisaro, lead information and assistance and options counselor for the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho. “We’re at a shortage of housing, especially for low income.”

Bisaro said the Area Agency on Aging receives one or two calls a day from panicked seniors experiencing some form of displacement with nowhere to go.

“We see some more than other times,” she said. “I think housing is an ongoing issue that we have.”

Tom Stetson, 75, recently received a 30-day eviction notice from his landlord. Stetson has lived in a downtown Coeur d’Alene duplex for five years. He said he always pays his rent on time and he never causes any trouble, but received the notice after some electrical problems became apparent between the units, requiring repair.

Stetson, a month-to-month renter, is losing his eyesight because of diabetes and he’s homebound with limited mobility. His closest family is in Missoula and his closest friends live north of town. He doesn’t have a lot of money, help or anywhere to move.

“I tried to explain to (the landlord), I’m handicapped. I can’t move myself. There’s not very many, if any, rental units available in our county. It’s filled to the brim,” Steson said. “If I make a move at this time, I need to find a handicap-accessible unit.”

Melissa Owens, a medical social worker with North Idaho Home Health who is working with Stetson, said she encounters this sort of predicament quite often.

“Actually, the thing is, the housing lists that are affordable, you have to apply months in advance,” she said. “Even then you could be on a waiting list. If you’re looking for an ADA unit … the wait can be for a year or more in advance.”

Stetson said he has the option to apply for a 90-day extension if he can’t find housing in time. But if that doesn’t go through, he could be escorted out of his home by sheriff’s deputies in less than a month.

“If I had any hope, it would be that some owner or manager of senior housing would be willing to make some accommodation,” he said. “Everyone’s got a waiting list, but my situation is a little more emergency than that.”

Another North Idaho senior facing a housing crisis is Mary Kay Polster, 74, of Post Falls. Her finances, credit, housing situation and life in general have been impacted by a recent divorce. She and her daughter, Sonja Lane, are living in hotels until they find permanent housing. Lane said Polster’s retirement and Social Security income put her just over the maximum to apply for certain housing help.

Polster also is disabled — she is hard of hearing, a breast cancer survivor and suffers from Crohn’s disease.

“It’s terrible. It has really aged me, and I’m not an aging person,” she said. “I’m a young-thinking person. I have a lot to live for. I have my daughter and my grandson to live for,” Polster said.

“It’s been hell,” Lane said. “We’ve literally had to borrow from strangers to get along.”

“I’m really disturbed because I’m losing my home that I paid for out of my own money,” Polster said. “My inheritance paid for this house.”

A good starting point for seniors in distress is the Area Agency on Aging.

“My office happens to be right outside our entryway, so I hear a lot of the conversation when people come in, and they’ve described that very kind of thing, and what do we do?” said agency director Dan English. “It’s tough.

“To be truthful, we can’t always promise there will be a happy ending to every story, especially with limited resources.”

English said if seniors feel as though they have been unfairly evicted, one resource is Idaho Legal Aid Services, a nonprofit that helps low-income people.

But each situation is different.

“There isn’t an easy answer, but I also think we should be working maybe harder on the solutions,” English said. “There are a number of things. Just this week at the State of the City they went over the statistics that Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County is one of the highest places in the country for the growth of senior populations.”

Bisaro said some options that could help include the North Idaho Crisis Center and St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho. When mental health is a factor, Owens suggested contacting places like Alliance Family Services and Monarch Mental Health.

Bisaro recommends seniors examine the resources they already have, such as family and church groups, and don’t be afraid of burdening others when you need help.

“It’s a tough situation,” English said.

Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho: 208-667-3179

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