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Pam Rainey

Not long ago I enjoyed lunch with a friend near Denton’s Square. As we talked about the column I’ve written for seniors for many years, and explored ideas, she shocked me with a comment.

“The next generation of homelessness I predict will be senior adults,” she said.

Taken aback, I’ve pondered her words and researched the topic. I’ve found a number of articles and some research validating her prediction. In fact, senior homelessness has already arrived on the streets of America.

An article (“Why America’s Elderly Are Falling Through the Cracks”) on a website dedicated to homelessness, https://invisiblepeople.tv, was an eye-opener to me. The article explains the future homelessness of seniors and the problems it will present.

While many seniors today travel, enjoy hobbies, lunches, theater and movies with friends, it’s not that way for every senior. Here’s why.

“In the Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by [the Department of Housing and Urban Development], the number of elderly individuals experiencing sheltered homelessness nearly doubled from 4.1 percent in 2007 to 8 percent in 2017,” the article said. “It’s not slowing down either. This population is expected to triple over the next decade.”

The article identifies those who are most at risk for becoming homelessness in old age: those who spend their middle-age years in poverty, and those who are able to pay their bills with low-wage work, but who have no money left over to put in retirement savings. And while Americans are holding onto their jobs longer, some work — especially manual labor — isn’t realistic for the elderly who aren’t financially prepared to retire. Arthritis or chronic pain can sideline workers over age 50 who once earned a living with a strong back and their hands.

While being unable to save for retirement — or unable to work after 65 — can put seniors at a disadvantage, it is not the only reason we might fall through the cracks and become homeless in our later years.

There are complications to growing older. Some seniors live with serious health issues — beyond arthritis and chronic conditions — and some suffer from a lack of planning, and children who fail to launch.

When I was a real estate agent here in Denton, my observation was families were unable to buy houses until later in life due to the rising cost of housing. Therefore, their homes might not be paid for until long after buyers reach age 65. In addition, some older people were selling their homes and taking their equity to pay off credit cards or medical bills and put away some cash. But cash only lasts so long if an emergency arises. For most people, their home is the most valuable asset they have.

But home can be endangered when elderly parents dive into their children’s financial troubles. Savvy Ladies, a website that promotes financial independence for women, said parents can face a financial crisis when they want to lend financial help to their grown children. This kind of crisis can cost elderly parents their home.

As we grow into the last chapters of our lives, we really do not know how long our savings must last. For those of us who have enjoyed having children, sacrificing for them didn’t hurt too much. We watched them grow and develop, and many of us have never held a grudge toward the expenses they encountered as they matured, whether the expense was an education or recovering from a financial hiccup. If parents have enabled a child’s irresponsibility, they can feel the sting when middle-aged children turn to Mom and Dad for help.

According to Wendy Dickinson, a licensed psychologist at GROW counseling in Atlanta, said elderly parents often find troubled children back at their doorstep.

“When we have parents who are in a crisis because of a failure-to-launch young adult — or an adult child who is in a health crisis or perhaps an adult child is dealing with an addiction — that becomes a bottomless money pit, one of the things that we do is a thorough assessment.”

Together, counselors and families discover how serious the grown child’s financial crisis is, examine the causes and then map out a plan to lead all parties back to independence. Sometimes outside counseling is necessary to help seniors communicate with adult children and help them understand they must grow up and become financially secure, Dickinson said.

I’m sure more studies are forthcoming about senior adult homelessness. It is certainly a mind-boggling crisis facing us, and a wake-up call to save for retirement.

Perhaps it is a reminder to parents to have difficult conversations with adult children. Most of us just can’t be the bank for struggling family members — and most of us can’t help out indefinitely without putting our own financial health at risk.

Taking care of our resources often requires the help of a financial planner who can help us guide our way through our senior years.

There are many financial planners and counselors who are trained and compassionate, and they will often meet with our family members to help us deliver hard messages. And sometimes, someone outside our family is the best person to deliver news to someone who doesn’t understand our financial situation, or our need to make our money last as long as we do.

PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at pam@realestatedenton.biz or 940-293-3117.

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