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Homeless seniors a growing crisis in the Valley

Updated: 2019-08-07 01:46:26-04
Homeless seniors in the Valley

Skyrocketing rent prices have led to the eviction of many of the elderly, who live on a fixed income.

The homeless crisis for senior citizens in the Valley is stressing already limited resources to the max.

RELATED: Homelessness in Maricopa County is worse now than it's ever been, advocates say

Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) says one out of three people who walk into their shelters is a senior citizen.

"No senior should be homeless and they certainly shouldn't be sleeping on a mat on the floor," said Glow. She added that many of these seniors are experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives.

"It is a crisis and we're calling it the "silver tsunami" of homelessness and it's across the nation," Glow added.

Glow said evicted seniors have nowhere to find affordable housing. Many of them ended up at CASS, but the shelter is usually full.

Glow said employees have the heartbreaking job of turning hundreds of people away every month. "Just recently 550 people wanting a bed were turned away, and every month it's like that," said Glow.

"Nobody should pay more than a third of their income for their housing or rent, but right now, a lot of people today are paying half or more to stay in an apartment or rental unit," said Glow.

She called it the worst affordable housing crisis of our time. Glow said studies were showing for every 100 low-income renters in need in Arizona, the metropolitan Phoenix area had only 20 affordable and available rental units.

"There is a two-year waiting list for seniors to get into affordable housing," she added.

While touring one of their Phoenix homeless shelters, ABC15 met 62-year-old Anita Vassar, a woman who said she had spent her whole life living in a million-dollar mansion right below the Superstition Mountains.

She had spent most of her life working a full-time job until a medical crisis and abusive relationship landed her on the streets.

"All my life I've been a nurse at St. Joseph's and Banner Phoenix which used to be Good Sam. I also worked at the county E.R and the burn unit," said Vassar.

Vassar said she had never imagined that she would end up spending the later years of her life living in a homeless shelter, but the place had also opened her eyes.

"Not everybody here is a bum, not everybody is a drunk or an alcoholic, some of us just fell on a hard time in our lives and ended up here to try and figure things out," said Vassar.

Glow said some of the homeless she had encountered at CASS shelters had Masters Degrees and PhD's. One of her goals is to create a shelter just for the elderly in the Valley.

"We would like to have another senior shelter in another part of the community, get our most elderly, our most frail homeless seniors into a smaller shelter with more targeted services," said Glow.

The organization has many success stories. Among them were a 71-year-old woman they had been able to get into subsidized housing, and a 70-year-old man who was next in line for a job at Walmart.

Glow said for every success story, the number of people who need help keeps growing.

She says studies show Phoenix had the second highest eviction rate in the nation with more than 25,000 eviction orders that moved through the justice courts last year.

CASS officials and advocates planned to plead with state and local lawmakers for more funding, and a pledge to create more affordable housing units across the Valley.

You can learn more about their efforts or join in the mission by visiting the CASS website.