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NEW ORLEANS – More and more seniors are living on the streets.
Homeless agencies across the country say it’s an alarming new trend due to rising rents and inflation.
“It’s hard because you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, where your next shower is going to come from,” said Darrell Gibson, 55.
Gibson has been on the streets of New Orleans for over three weeks. He suffers from liver disease and recently lost his mother.
“It’s the first time I’ve been on the streets and without a family,” Gibson said. “My mother was the last member of my family I had.”
Gibson is now one of tens of thousands of older Americans without a permanent home, and researchers predict the crisis will worsen.
A 2019 study from the University of Pennsylvania estimated that the number of homeless older adults would almost triple by 2030, reaching over 100,000. And this study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a lot harder, especially at night for older people,” Gibson said. “Your body temperature is not the same as before. Then you have to sleep on concrete and it’s hard.”
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At the Travelers Aid Society, an outreach and counseling center for the homeless in New Orleans, more seniors are showing up.
“It’s alarming what we’re seeing,” said Phyllis Lofton, one of the center’s crisis coordinators. “We used to bring in elderly people occasionally, but now it’s more of a regular thing with maybe one or two elderly people a day coming homeless.”
Lofton said many seniors were forced from their homes after Hurricane Ida when landlords made repairs and then raised rents.
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“There’s an increase in everything right now, and seniors have such a limited amount of money,” Lofton said. “When they ask for more rent, these seniors are not able to pay that amount, and they don’t know what to do.”
Lofton knows firsthand how those seniors felt. Almost 25 years ago, she came to the Travelers Aid Society for help while living on the streets after leaving an abusive relationship.
“They got me into their programs, some of the same programs I help people get into now,” Lofton said. “It’s an opportunity for me to pay him back. I can relate to them and let them know that everything will be fine.”
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However, she was concerned for the safety of seniors in the face of rising crime in New Orleans.
“Now there are gangs of homeless people attacking other homeless people,” Lofton said. “It’s really, really bad.”
Gibson added, “The younger ones, they don’t care about anyone but themselves. All they want to do is get high and steal and kill.”
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Although he’s had a tough time, Gibson remains hopeful.
“Every day I ask God what he has in store for me,” he said. “I believe he’ll clear a path for me.”