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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AAI Year in Review

From Program Director Linda Jackson:

As 2018 comes to an end, it’s time to take a moment to recognize what the Aging Action Initiative achieved this year. We started out the year with a new strategic direction to educate, advocate, and innovate with people working across sectors so that all older people in Marin will live long and live well, as the Commission on Aging says. I am grateful to be able to say that, through our workgroups and advocacy, we ended 2018 with significant growth in our network, expanded programs, and successful influence in public policy.

Logo_MYotOA In January, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, resolving that “we take the time to acknowledge the older adults living here,” proclaimed 2018 “The Year of the Older Adult.” Let’s begin by highlighting just two major accomplishments during this Year of the Older Adult: the Marin Cultural Association’s 80 over 80 exhibit, featuring 80 works of art by local artists who are 80 and older, and the Board of Supervisors’ decision to move forward to join the World Health Organization’s global network of age-friendly communities.

AAI is about education, advocacy, and innovation for changes. This happens through our networks and collaborations. Our premier networking event, the 2018 AAI Convening, had more people than ever (over 100!) joining a day of networking, equity training, a debrief of learnings from the American Society of Aging conference, and advocacy.

AAI’s Inform&Connect academies continued to expand. We had our first collaboration with partner organization Marin Interfaith Council for an Inform&Connect academy for religious leaders in Marin. Sixty-five people signed up for this event held at the Dominican Sisters. Speakers covered resources about dementia and mental health, caregiving, and housing.

Our two fall workshops for front-line workers about resources in Marin for older adults had a combined attendance of more than 75 people. This year, we extended an invitation to all of Marin’s cities and towns to participate. Librarians from six jurisdictions and one police aide joined us!

The Inform&Connect workgroup and the many speakers who volunteered donated over 900 hours to the success to the academies.

This year, AAI began to present the innovative homegrown Detect&Connect workshop in the community.  Volunteer facilitators held workshops at the Mill Valley Community Centers and at Marin Humane.

In November, AAI received the wonderful news that it will receive a grant to scale up the program throughout the county. The AAI network spoke up to say that the next round of ‘innovation grant’ funding for mental health services should specifically help older people in Marin. After over a year of advocacy, we are now in partnership with County Behavioral Health and Resources Services staff. The grant will let us bring Detect&Connect to businesses, groups, and organizations across Marin so that people can better connect with people who have mental health challenges and connect them with services.

Our advocacy took off this year. In addition to funding for mental health, we spoke up in favor of senior housing, transportation needs, and protections for older renters. And we had wins: housing in Larkspur for seniors who were homeless, assisted living in downtown San Rafael, benches and shade preserved in downtown San Rafael, the start of protections for renters in most jurisdictions, and the passage of Measure AA for transportation funding.

The Commission on Aging released a report written in collaboration with AAI: Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030.

Our visibility increased this year as we asked elected leaders to prepare age-friendly plans for their communities. Including the County, ten of the 12 jurisdictions in Marin have adopted, or have started, an age-friendly planning effort. Both the County and the Town of Ross joined the international age-friendly network. Through age-friendly plans, community leaders will be able to look through the lens of aging equity and support changes for the older people in their cities and towns.

The AAI community now numbers over 125 organizations from across the public, nonprofit and healthcare sectors. We launched our Facebook page and expanded our online resource library, your go-to place for data and research that you can use in your work.

This work matters. AAI is the only organization in Marin bringing together everyone working so that every older person is safe, healthy and engaged. The Aging Action Initiative is making the difference as you make new professional and personal connections, build new partnerships, and create innovations to transform the opportunities for aging in Marin.

We include this month an article by Commissioner Chrisula Asimos about isolation and the importance of human connections. This is an important time of the year for many of the clients and families you work with. Chris reminds us to appreciate our friendships and relationships, and to be kind, to be mindful and to replenish ourselves.

In gratitude for everything you did as part of AAI’s work and in your own work in 2018 Year of the Older Adult. 

~ Linda


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Unlikely Collaboration Provides Solution for Marin’s Aging Population

Joe O'Hehir Photo.9.27.16By Joe O’Hehir
CEO, Whistlestop
Chair, Steering Committee, Aging Action Initiative

Several years ago, when Whistlestop set out to develop and build a new healthy aging center with affordable senior housing, little did we know that it would take a strategic collaboration with a multi-billion dollar rare-disease biotech company to make it happen.

In addressing the challenges of the SMART downtown location, Whistlestop embarked on a redevelopment plan for its existing property and site. The redevelopment plan proposed a rebuild of our current location at 930 Tamalpais Avenue (next to the Bettini Transit Center) to include the addition of senior affordable housing units combined with a new, state-of-the-art Active Aging Center. We partnered with Eden Housing, a notable nonprofit housing organization to develop, construct, and manage the housing component of the project. Whistlestop and Eden Housing submitted a formal application to San Rafael’s community development department for the redevelopment project in July 2015.

Unfortunately, our project plan was met with resistance, primarily from a vocal minority group of community members. City officials encouraged us to find a different location in downtown San Rafael for the project. Therefore, in February 2016, BioMarin, Whistlestop, and Eden Housing signed a memorandum of understanding to form a strategic collaboration to work together and develop a co-application for the 999 Third Street property which had been recently purchased by BioMarin.

The result of these two years of collaborative effort was the recent submission of a formal project application on October 5, 2018 for the 999 Third Street property. In the application, BioMarin is proposing to provide a section of the currently vacant lot, on the northwest corner of the property at Third Street and Brooks Street, for the development of a new 18,000 square-foot Whistlestop Healthy Aging Center and Eden Housing’s 67 units of affordable senior housing.

Why is this unlikely strategic collaboration working? Simply put, it’s about mutually beneficial goal alignment. Whistlestop and Eden Housing needed to find a more suitable location to build a modern healthy aging center combined with as many affordable senior housing units as we can build, given the growing community need. BioMarin wants to demonstrate that they are providing an important community benefit and that they are good corporate citizens to the city of San Rafael as they plan to expand and grow their downtown corporate campus.

The moral of this story is to be open minded about choosing collaborative partners. You never know who might be in a position to help your nonprofit organization achieve its mission!


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