As caseworker for a program that helps the homeless in Clermont County, Alex Boltz regularly encounters heartbreaking situations, sometimes involving seniors. She fears that growing numbers of aging citizens will find themselves facing similar living conditions.
“I think it’s just going to get worse,” said Boltz, a Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health employee with the PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program. “Their checks are not enough to cover their living expenses and rent continues to rise. Some end up living in cars.”
PATH provides intensive outreach services to Clermont County adults who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness. The program links people with mental health or substance use treatment services and provides other supports such as assistance with the Social Security application process and housing referrals. You can call an outreach worker directly at 513-765-9094 or 513-614-6918. The program is funded through Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services via federal funds and the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
Boltz and co-worker Abby Rau, a PATH SUD (substance use disorder) outreach worker from Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health, say they are working with more senior citizens who receive Social Security checks, get evicted because rent costs went up, and need help getting connected to housing.
“A lot of these people have worked their whole lives and they don’t want to ask for help,” Boltz said. “They have lost faith in the system. When they break down their pride and go for help, it doesn’t go well. Services are good, but providers often are understaffed and overloaded and they just can’t keep up. If a person is willing to live in assisted living or a nursing home, that’s fairly easy to help them navigate the system. Especially if they’re getting their Social Security check. I think it’s just a matter of bridging the gap between their resources.”
Boltz tells about a 65-year-old woman who had been living in her car for two years. The woman now resides in an efficiency room in an independent living facility. Rent at the subsidized facility covers all her meals, transportation to appointments, an on-site laundromat, and community activities.
“She’s so grateful,” Boltz said. “She’s so happy. She didn’t even know that was an option. A lot of seniors think they can’t afford a home, but they’re all sorts of programs and different levels of assistance.”
Boltz and Rau are surprised by the number of homeless senior citizens.
“They’re retired, still have a vehicle, and are living in cars,” Boltz said. “They have no family support. Their family is out of state or passed away. They have lived in poverty all of their lives, so they don’t have a safety net. They have no evictions, no criminal record. They just need somebody to help them put in the footwork.
“Of course mental health and addiction play a big role in the homeless situation, but you run into people going through rough times that don’t have mental health problems,” Boltz added.
Rau said: “For many, rent is going up and they’re not making enough money on their jobs to counter expenses. For some of these people, it’s just an unfortunate situation. Most of us are just one or two paychecks away from homelessness.”
The PATH workers locate and contact with homeless individuals in wooded areas, on riverfronts, under bridges, in jails, hospitals, shelters, libraries, soup kitchens, or time-limited temporary/transitional housing.
They network with a variety of referral sources throughout Clermont County, including law enforcement, shelters, medical clinics, hospitals, churches, businesses and social service agencies. Once PATH workers identify and engage with a homeless client, they make a preliminary assessment for services and begin creating a plan for the client.
Boltz said: “We meet with the homeless, in cars a lot of the time, do an assessment, see what the needs are, any barriers, talk about how they ended up homeless, make a plan, get them to shelter if they want it and can connect them to services. Sometimes, it’s the same resources you or I would use. But they do not have access to a computer or know how to use one. They just need help.”
Rau added: “Sometimes they prefer to sleep outside. You make sure have food. Check in on them. Give them hand warmers.”
For those needing substance use treatment, there are options for sober living. However, subsidized apartments have long waiting lists and group homes for those with mental health challenges are out of the county.
For now, the PATH workers are trying to build awareness about the situation and the services they offer. Boltz has been in her job for 18 months and Rau started in September.
“It’s going to be a cold winter,” said Rau, thinking about those she plans to help in the months ahead.