Equity Plan Neglects Older Adults

Below is a copy of AAI Steering Committee member Teri Dowling’s comments to the Board of Supervisors on February 12.

Supervisors, my name is Teri Dowling and I’m speaking on behalf of myself as an older person living in Marin County. While I do serve on the Marin Commission on Aging and sit on the Aging Action Initiative Steering Committee, the comments I am making today are mine alone.

I want to start by saying that I very much appreciate the work and care of so many people that went into the development of the Health and Human Services Strategic Plan. A focus on racial equity is an extremely important, timely, and cross-cutting goal for this county.  

However, I was surprised that there was so little, if any, mention in the Strategic Plan of older people of color, whereas other age groups such as children and youth are specifically mentioned.

With that point in mind, over the next year the county will produce an Age-Friendly Strategic Plan for Marin. The county’s Aging and Adult Services office will produce a four-year plan that is required by the Older Americans Act. As you are aware, nearly 30 percent of the population in Marin is over 60 years of age, with 9 percent non-white. Of all older adults in Marin, 5 percent live at or below the federal poverty level, and another 21 percent struggle to make ends meet each month. A focus on aging equity would certainly seem to be a very good second chapter to this current Health and Human Services Strategic Plan.  

Moving forward:

  1. I would recommend that the Board of Supervisors request Health and Human services address older people of color in this Strategic Plan.
  2. I urge the Board of Supervisors to actively involve the Commission on Aging and other older adult and disability advocacy groups in setting criteria for the new HHS Director and participating on the interview panel.  
  3. I also urge the Board to make sure that Aging and Adult Services has a voice and presence at the executive leadership level of Health and Human Services. These efforts will help ensure that aging equity is at the table.

Thank you.

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A New Approach to Aging Advocacy

Last month I visited my sister to celebrate her 80th birthday at her home in paradise (Hawaii!). She lives in a well-connected community of friendly ex-pat retirees. Even with the certainty that she has a wide circle of resources around her, it dawned on me on the flight home that I have again joined the universe of people who worry about the health and happiness of someone they love.  

I came home to some satisfying substantial collaborating. AAI has teamed up with the Marin Commission on Aging, Marin Age-Friendly, and Marin’s Area Agency on Aging (a.k.a. “AAA”) for intentional and extensive advocacy for the 71,000 people over 60 in Marin.

In reading Marin Health and Human Services’ recently completed Strategic Plan to Achieve Health and Wellness Equity, many of us were struck that in discussing the health and human service needs of Marin 250,000 residents, there were only two mentions of older people! We enthusiastically endorse the improvement in the outreach, sensitivity, and efficacy of services for people of color. At the same time, we are compelled to speak up about the physical, mental, and emotional health of older people of all backgrounds.

When we look through the lens of aging equity, we see that older people are treated differently, even though aging is something that everyone gets to do. As incomes from social security and pensions shrink and health and housing expenses increase over the years, older people in high-priced Marin face challenging decisions about where to live (some have no choice but their car), what to eat, and how to pay for health care. Combine these with the depression that comes from loneliness that can build up with the loss of families and friends, and we have a list of issues that Health and Human Services should focus on, along with their work to expand staff’s capacity in working with people of different backgrounds.

The new AAI/COA/AF/AAA alliance for advocacy stepped out at a couple of recent Board of Supervisors meetings (see Teri Dowling’s comments in this newsletter). We are all following up on the recent All. Together. Now summit about economic security for older people in Marin. And we are planning AAI’s 2019 Convening on April 30 in Tiburon.

The Convening is our signature event for the year. At our annual gathering, we will reconnect with each other for the next year. We will explore the intersection of equity and ageism. We will learn what’s new from the national American Society on Aging conference. And we will build our skill levels in advocacy for economic security, housing, aging-in-community, and transportation.

A new component this year will be afternoon tracks so people can dive deeper into two of three topics: Inform&Connect about difficult conversations, Age-Friendly Planning, and Economic Security about naming issues and exploring solutions. These sessions will all further our education, innovation, and advocacy work in the next year.

If you want to change the conversation and affect public policy to change practices, if you want to find partners to leverage your work to be more effective, if you want to advocate for policies and programs to improve the lives of older people, then you will want to join us.

If you want to make a difference for the older person in your life, be it a sister, aunt or grandfather, then you will want to be in Tiburon on April 30.

Sign up early to ensure a spot at the table! I look forward to seeing you there.

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Economic Hardship for Marin’s Older Adults

Shirin V

By Shirin Vakharia
Director Health & Aging, Marin Community Foundation

Despite a booming economy, California has one of the highest rates of senior poverty in the country. In Marin County, approximately 25 percent of the population 65 and over have incomes below the Elder Self Sufficiency Standard (Elder Index). Older women and older women of color are disproportionately impacted by economic insecurity. Economic hardship among older adults is related to increased health care costs — burdening both the health care system and the individual; greater utilization of institutional care; poor quality of life and poor health status.

For individuals who rent, a fixed income is not adequate to keep pace with increasing housing costs. In Marin County, approximately 54 percent of older adults with incomes below the Elder Index rent, and of those who rent, more than two-thirds spend more than 60 percent of their income on rent. According to the Zillow Rent Index, since 2010, Marin County has experienced a 57 percent increase in market rent further stressing the financial situation of lower income older adults.

Research shows that women, single people, and people of color are at higher risk of experiencing economic insecurity in older adulthood. This is often due to a gender and racial wealth gap that persists across the lifespan.  Factors that contribute to these wealth disparities include gaps in employment due to caregiving responsibilities, and the declining availability of workplace retirement plans ― especially for low-wage workers. More recently, older adult economic insecurity has been rising in populations that did not experience poverty during their working years. High housing costs, the 2008 recession, and rising out-of-pocket health care expenses have left many older people economically insecure. On average, at just over $1,300 a month, Social Security only covers 44 percent of a person’s basic needs in California, leaving many older adults who rely on social security as their primary source of retirement income vulnerable to fluctuations in their expenses.

In 2014, in response to these trends, the Marin Community Foundation launched the Older Adult Economic Security initiative which is designed to improve economic security for older adults living below the Elder Index. Thus far, grants have been made to Community Action Marin’s SparkPoint Marin Center and the YWCA San Francisco & Marin for their Fifty+ Program. Through these investments in both direct services as well as in fostering partnership and greater alignment among these two organization, MCF seeks to support efforts to address older adult economic security through comprehensive strategies that include financial coaching services, benefits enrollment, service connection and employment.

The constellation of factors that impact the economic well-being of older adults requires a variety of actors across systems and sectors to come together in new ways to reduce fragmentation in the service delivery system; bring more attention to this often hidden problem; and advocate for stronger public policy. To bring more attention to the economic well-being of Marin’s older adults, MCF in partnership with a planning committee are hosting a summit for advocates, policy makers and service providers. The All.Together.Now summit scheduled for February 1, 2019 will focus on both service delivery and policy strategies to advance economic security emphasizing the critical role that multi-sector collaborations can play in strengthening the service delivery system and advancing public policy.

The Aging Action Initiative provides a constructive platform from which to organize stakeholders to tackle problems and leverage opportunities that are beyond the scope of any one particular organization or sector. Join us at the Feb. 1 All.Together.Now summit and stay tuned for opportunities in 2019 to come together to find ways to improve the economic well-being of older people in Marin.

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Farewell 2018, Year of the Older Adult in Marin

Linda headshot newFrom AAI Program Director Linda M. Jackson:

When I look at 2019 in my crystal ball, this much is clear: 2019 will be the year to become more intentional about our work for change. Let’s start by talking about what people want as they get older.

In AAI, we know that economic security is key to well being. With enough money, we can have the shelter,food, and healthcare we need. Just a few months ago, Marin Community Foundation staff started hearing from what we might call the canary in the coal mine. MCF grant recipients were reporting a noticeable increase in the trauma and anguish that their clients were experiencing in their daily living. The message was loud and clear: not everyone in Main was safe and sound.  

In this month’s newsletter, MCF’s Shirin Vakharia lays out a compelling explanation about how challenging life can be for lower-income older people in Marin. Shirin called together those working on the frontline with an offer to bring to Marin some of the top thinkers in the state about economic security for older adults. We created a planning committee and put together a powerful morning for February 1 to hear about the larger forces at work, as well as what we can do here in Marin. People are asking for help with housing, food, transportation, and other essentials of daily life. We need to have a stronger infrastructure of care. Sign up for the Summit and make plans to join us.

Here’s something else in the crystal ball for 2019: a worsening employment crisis across the county. For years Marin has experienced a housing crisis. Rising rents in 2018 exacerbated the situation for the thousands of older renters in Marin. The lack of new housing to meet the demand caused by employment growth in Marin meant that local workers have been experiencing a growing commute crisis. That dreaded commute means that Marin now has an employment crisis.

Turnover, lack of experience, vacancies – each one of our agencies and organizations has been impacted by the fact that local workers cannot find affordable places to live in Marin.

The quickest way to add new housing is for homeowners to add a junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU) to their home. AAI and the Commission on Aging are sponsoring a JADU Expo on Thursday, February 7, 9–11am, at Whistlestop. Please share with your clients the flyer about this opportunity to meet with architects, builders, lenders and others who can answer all their questions about how to add a unit to make additional income or house a caregiver. With your help, local homeowners can add thousands of small units in Marin, helping homeowners earn extra income and local workers find a place to live.

At AAI, we’re taking stock for 2019. We are speaking up for the well-being of every older person in Marin. Start this conversation at your work with your colleagues, and bring it home to AAI at our convening in spring. We have a lot to talk about.

2019: change is on the way.

~  Linda

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A Simple Act of Kindness and Caring

CABy Chrisula Asimos, PhD, CSA, suicidologist
Member, Marin Commission on Aging

With the holidays quickly approaching, it is a good time to reflect on current plans and relationships. We live in somewhat difficult and trying times, which can add more stress and burden to the holiday season. For some, the holidays bring up positive memories. For others, the holidays cast a dark shadow with feelings of sadness and despair.

I recently viewed a RetroReport documentary that highlighted a research study of a population of high-risk depressed and suicidal individuals. In the follow-up phase of the study, people who refused treatment were sent contact letters simply stating a message of caring and concern with no strings attached. That specific, consistent message sent over a period of time proved to have prevention value for depression and suicide.

Science has shown how social isolation is a risk for early death.The current challenge is how can we experience some solace and comfort by reaching out to others with a simple act of kindness and caring. Though the study took place in the 1970s, the lessons we take away are as apt today as they were then. There is measurable value in human contact, in expressing caring and concern. This means social contact in real time!

The immediacy of electronic media has persuaded us to buy into this particular delivery of social contact. Yet the number of people we feel close to appears to be shrinking with this type of social contact, which tends to offer only greater superficial feelings of self-worth.

For those prone to low self-esteem or feelings of loneliness, this media source of contact has not proven to positively improve those issues. There are a number of recent studies reporting on the positive effects of face-to-face and social contact in real time. Face-to-face contact has been identified as having physiological value as oxytoxin, a neuropeptide, is secreted into the bloodstream during meaningful relationships, triggering a euphoric-like feeling. In other words, the good feelings we have from the gathering times of the holidays are good for our mental health!

During the years I facilitated group therapy for depressed and suicidal individuals, I often related Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma to the dynamic interactions of humans: on a cold, wintry day, porcupines were looking to warm themselves so they hovered together, only to prick each other, move apart, and become cold again. They then found the optimal closeness that safely brought them warmth. May you also find optimal and safe closeness and warmth this holiday season.

Let us close out this year with an appreciation for the friendships and relationships we have. Let us remember to be kind to ourselves and those around us, to be mindful of our own and others’ needs for comfort and support, and to take time to replenish our inner resources and emotional energy required to be the gatekeepers, the responders, and the service providers.

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