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Nevada isn't an easy place to be a senior.

While affordable housing was once a draw, seniors are struggling to make rent, and some are forced to choose between food and housing. 

The latest numbers from Clark County showed seniors now make up about 10 percent of the total population of homeless.

Steve Schmitt is the chief operating officer for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. He said food pantries run by the charity have seen a 20 percent increase in seniors looking for help. 

He said of the 5,000 families the pantries serve a month, 1,000 of them are seniors. 

“While the economy has improved and jobless numbers have improved, housing costs have gone up significantly and that’s true for seniors as well,” he said.

To pay for increases in their rent, seniors are turning to food pantries to cover the other costs. 

Schmitt said the cost of health care and pharmaceuticals are also stretching budgets to a breaking point.

“They are having to make a choice among what they need and typically the things they need are a roof over their head, food in their belly and the medicine that they need,” he said.

Marcia Blake is the executive director for Helping Hands of Vegas Valley. She said her group gets daily calls from seniors looking for help with housing or expenses to move into a cheaper home.

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“I think it's just going to get worse as the housing crisis gets worse in the Valley," she said. "You’re just going to see more and more seniors that are going to be asked to leave.”

She said people on a fixed income, who can't get a job to supplement that income, can struggle with just small increases in expenses. 

Blake said seniors are often too proud to ask for even the smallest amount of help. She pointed to the case of a man who called for an emergency box of food and when it was delivered they realized he had been without food for a while.

Blake said the state is doing a good job with its services for seniors, but like other issues in the state, there is not enough money to pay for all of the need. 

Three Square Food Bank was set up several years ago to work as a hub for food banks around the valley. It collects and distributes food.

Jodi Tyson is the vice president of strategic initiatives. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the food bank as opened nearly 20 food pantries specifically for seniors.

“We serve about 164,000 people every month and to know that seniors represent about 20,000 of those services that are 60 and above that is a high volume number for us," she said. "We have really dedicated some resources to try to provide some extra intervention for those at-risk seniors.”

In addition to the specific pantries, Three Square announced Thursday it is creating a program for seniors called Golden Groceries. Under the program, seniors will be able to order the amount and type of food for their specific nutritional needs.

Those interested are encouraged to call 702.765.4030 Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

Tyson said she hopes the program starts to address both the food insecurity of seniors and the isolation.

Lutheran Social Services works to address both of those problems through its Heart of the City meal program. Cherry Richardson is the chief operating officer for Lutheran Social Services. She said the program offers free, nutritious meals in a group setting.

She said one homeless man who came there for food also found friends and eventually someone to live with.

“They were able to strike up some relationships and friendships and is no longer homeless," she said. "They were able to pull together and bring their situation together and now instead of having one homeless person, we prevented a secondary person from being homeless."

Part of the problem for seniors is that 40 percent live alone, said Natalie Mazzullo, assistant director for Nevada Geriatric Education Center.

Mazzullo said social isolation is a big problem in Nevada. 

“We try and reach those seniors and try and provide opportunities so they don’t feel socially isolated but often times it’s hard,” she said. “We can reach out as much as we can but it’s going to take everyone. It takes a village.”

RESOURCES

Helping Hands of Vegas Valley

Aging and Disability Services Division

Clark County Social Services

Senior Services Clark County

Washoe County Senior Services

Three Square Food Bank

Nevada 211

East Valley Family Services

Henderson Social Services

Guests

Steve Schmitt, chief operating officer, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada; Jodi Tyson, vice president of strategic initiatives, Three Square Food Bank; Marcia Blake, executive director, Helping Hands of Vegas Valley; Cherry Richardson, chief operating officer, Lutheran Social Services of Southern Nevada; Natalie Mazzullo, assistant director, Nevada Geriatric Education Center

 

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