It’s 9:30 a.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day, and John Monte is busy ladling homemade mushroom soup for diners at the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, or as the servers casually call it, “The 9:30 Club.”
Monte, 68, has worked as a cook for most of his adult life and has worked in this kitchen for eight months. He is also homeless, and is staying with one of his sons until he can find affordable housing in the Washington, D.C. area.
“It’s difficult,” Monte said. “We can’t pay [D.C. rent], especially on a fixed income. The rent is too high.”
Monte’s younger brother, George Eskridge, volunteers at the Lutheran Church when he is needed there. Eskridge, 58, has worked in construction, retail, and the food industry in the past. He is also homeless. He takes temporary work when he can get it, and mostly works construction and janitorial jobs.
“The cost of living keeps going up, while our salary is not,” Eskridge said. “If you’re not a professional, with a professional career and a job, you can’t make it.”
Eskridge says being homeless and facing his 60s in the District is terrifying. And Eskridge is not alone in his fears.
With the cost of housing increasing much faster than the minimum wage and Social Security income, and with two of the District’s largest elder-care facilities slated to close, many senior citizens are worried about future housing. One diner, who wished to remain anonymous, said getting housing in D.C. as an elderly homeless person is extremely difficult.
“A majority of people directly associated with certain programs like Section 8 have problems,” he said. “The list is either backed up or the housing is unaffordable.”
Section 8 is one of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing assistance voucher programs for low-income families and individuals. Under Section 8, tenants pay a portion of their rent, typically around 30 per cent of their income, and the local housing authority covers the remainder. HUD determines a cap on housing costs, called the “Free Market Rate” or FMR.
For D.C., the FMR for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,134. In order to afford this rent, a D.C. resident would have to make an annual income of $45,360. At D.C.’s minimum wage of $7 an hour, a full-time employee would only make $14,560 yearly.
“I’m just trying to get a boost any way that I can,” Eskridge said. “I’m just working for minimum wage, and if you don’t have a professional career, you can’t do it.”
Monte receives Supplemental Security Income of $603 each month.
“An affordable one-bedroom apartment for me would be $400 [per month],” Monte said. “At least that way there’s some leeway so I can feed myself. If I get a place to stay, I can maintain it. In a way, the older population can take care of themselves, at least the ones that [are physically able]. But those that can’t take care of themselves, they should be taken care of.”
However, D.C.’s assisted living population faces increasing difficulty in getting that care. For many of the area’s elderly who can’t take care of themselves, a potential housing crisis looms on the horizon, as two of the area’s 20 assisted living homes are scheduled to close in the near future.
Few replacements exist in the D.C. area. The city’s full-care facilities are currently running at 98 percent capacity, and some seniors have been forced to move to nursing homes in Maryland and Virginia. Available spaces in those states are also filling up.
“It’s a logistical nightmare,” said Gerald Kasunic, an ombudsman for the Office of D.C. Long Term Care Program. “My worst fear would be that places start closing their doors and leave no place for patients to go.”
Kasunic said that if places closed their doors, many of the city’s elderly would be in need of full-time care on the streets.
For Monte and Eskridge, the need for cheaper housing in the D.C. area remains.
“I’m just trying to make it to Social Security and retirement, living day by day,” Eskridge said. “Housing is my biggest worry. That’s it. Don’t ever get to my age and think you’re going to make it without some kind of help.” n
By Brandon Lichtinger
Courtesy: Street News Service