I have written about a 90-year-old who consumed the last of her financial savings. I know this wasn’t a story that anyone enjoyed reading. As we can’t envision a solution, we tend to want to push our thoughts and feelings aside to avoid our discomfort. However, it started a much-needed conversation in the Valley.
While it may appear that there is nothing that I can personally do, to remain silent creates no solutions. Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti has supported Vintage House in focus groups and with our long-term strategic planning this year; she is now very aware of the problems facing seniors in Sonoma. She is in conversation with us regarding a possible public forum where we can call our community together to talk about and listen to the struggles of older adults in the area. We need to take this step forward immediately.
Beverly Koepplin has eloquently described her struggle to have affordable housing and to find employment at age 70 to sustain her now and in the future. Her “View from the Sonoma Abyss” represents the financial plight of many in the Valley…and very honestly, around the country.
There are some ideas floating around which I feel are worth discussing.
Since the cost of shelter is hurting everyone with a fixed income, and lower-income employed people, a potential solution is shared housing. If you are a single, older adult living in a three-bedroom house, could you share your home for additional income or for night time security? Wouldn’t sharing a home with other adults lead to a sense of belonging and a solution for isolation as well as a financial resource? Wouldn’t you find comfort in knowing that someone would be there for you? Isn’t meal time often better with someone than eating alone?
I am well aware that no one wants to sacrifice privacy but this solution is not about how we lived in the past. It’s about the presenting moment. If you have an aging parent who could benefit from sharing expenses, and from the additional friendship and security, would you discuss it with your parent?
We perceive the situation as a subtle—or not so subtle—reminder of how close many of us are to problematic situations. Or we might have friends who are already there. No one feels good reading of such hardship. It makes us uncomfortable.
For some time I’ve viewed retirees as a pool of wasted talent and experience. How many of us could benefit from employment a day or two each week for a little extra income? Or for some outside contact? Has anyone noticed the number of help wanted signs in retail stores, offices, and restaurants in the area?
Isn’t it time that we establish an employment agency for older adults to match employment opportunities with skilled, reliable labor? Isn’t it time that the community looks at older adults as a potential solution for these labor needs? Even if we’re physically a little slower (and some of us aren’t), wouldn’t our gratitude for the opportunity earn customers and be a financial win for everyone? Maybe having an older adult serving us will make each of us more aware that compassion around aging is an antidote to ageism.
I know that I will hear from those who want me to “stop being so depressing.” To lighten up. Sorry. I intend to be an advocate for the growing number of seniors who are facing personal and financial crises.
During most of my life, I’ve seen the future far ahead of others. I would rather be a visionary with a little bad news that results in action today than looking at what I might have done in the rearview mirror tomorrow.
We have a senior crisis in America today. It’s being openly described as the “graying tsunami” by elder service organizations and providers. It is a fact of life. As a nation, we are problem solvers and innovators: the solutions lie within us. Let’s get in gear and do what we do best.
Kelsey Maddox is the program and events director at Vintage House in Sonoma.