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NEW ORLEANS – More senior citizens are living on the streets.
Homeless agencies across the country say it’s an alarming new trend because of rising rents and inflation.
“It’s hard because you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, where your next shower is coming from,” said Darrell Gibson, 55.
Gibson has been on the streets in New Orleans for over three weeks. He has liver disease and recently lost his mother.
“This is my first time I’ve been on the streets and without no family,” Gibson said. “My mother was the last family member I had.”
Gibson is now one of tens of thousands of American seniors without a permanent home, and researchers predict the crisis will get worse.
A 2019 study led by the University of Pennsylvania estimated the number of elderly people experiencing homelessness will nearly triple by 2030, reaching over 100,000. And this study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a lot harder, especially during the nighttime for older people,” Gibson said. “Your body temperature is not the same as it used to be. Then you have to sleep on concrete and that’s hard.”
At Travelers Aid Society, a homeless outreach and counseling center in New Orleans, more seniors are showing up.
“It’s alarming what we’re seeing,” said Phyllis Lofton, one of the center’s crisis coordinators. “We used to have the occasional senior come in, but now it’s more of a regular thing with maybe one or two seniors a day coming in newly homeless.”
Lofton said many seniors were pushed out of their homes after Hurricane Ida when landlords did repairs and then raised rents.
“There’s an increase in everything right now, and older people have such limited amount of money,” Lofton said. “When they ask for more rent, these seniors aren’t able to pay that amount, and they don’t know what to do.”
Lofton knows firsthand how these seniors have felt. Nearly 25 years ago, she came to Travelers Aid Society for help when she was living on the streets after leaving an abusive relationship.
“They got me into their programs, some of the same programs I help people get into now,” Lofton said. “It’s my opportunity to pay it back. I can relate to them and let them know it’s going to be OK.”
However, she worried about seniors’ safety amid crime surges in New Orleans.
“Now there are homeless gangs that are attacking other homeless people,” Lofton said. “It’s really, really bad.”
Added Gibson: “The younger ones, they don’t care about anyone but self. All they want is to get high, to rob and to kill.”
Even though he’s fallen on hard times, Gibson remains hopeful.
“Every day I just ask God what he has in store for me,” he said. “I believe he’s going to make a way for me.”