Number of homeless elderly rising in Wichita -

Number of homeless elderly rising in Wichita

By: | Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) A Wichita homeless shelter has nearly three times more elderly people seeking refuge than it had a year ago, and the director of a local faith-based organization that runs the home sees that as part of an ongoing trend.

Many of those who seek housing help from Inter-Faith Ministries have lost their spouses and are left with a pile of medical expenses or credit card debt, said Sandy Swank, director of housing and homeless services for the organization.

One elderly woman whose husband died didn't even know about some of the debt that became her responsibility.

"They end up losing everything," Swank told The Wichita Eagle ( ). "They're pretty vulnerable. They don't have a lot of experience, especially when the partner that's deceased was in charge of decisions. So they're pretty clueless about what to do."

A 2010 study by the Homeless Research Institute projected the number of elderly people who are homeless would increase by one-third nationally, from 44,172 in 2010 to 58,772 by 2020, and would double to 95,000 by 2050.

Locally, Swank sees the numbers increasing. Inter-Faith's winter shelter has served 13 people over 62 years old this year, compared to last year's total of five.

"I've been working at Inter-Faith since October 1990," she said. "In the beginning, we'd have an occasional elderly person come in, but if they came in, they came in with someone else. They always had someone to look after them. In the last 10 years, we have seen more elderly people, and each year it seems like the number increases."

Swank said there are some theories about why the elderly homeless population is rising, with one of the most obvious being the economy.

"Years ago, families did look after families," Swank said. "Today, because of the economy, a lot of people are at risk themselves. I think families can't afford to take care of each other like they used to. 
And we've become more mobile. We move away from our families of origin. We're spread out."

Janis Cox, co-chairwoman of Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness, an area faith-based volunteer group, said increasing public awareness of the problem would be a good way to start addressing it.
"Families are very stressed," she said. "With social services being cut by the government and nonprofits not receiving more donations, it just puts normal families under even more stress."

The oldest person at Inter-Faith's winter shelter was 83, Swank said.

One resident who recently ended up in Inter-Faith's winter shelter after a visit to the Robert J. Dole Veterans Administration Medical Center's emergency room was dropped off by a cab on a Saturday night.

Swank was there when 78-year-old Dale Chilen arrived.

"He was so frail, in a wheelchair," she said. "I paid the cab driver to get him to Safe Haven. He was too vulnerable anywhere else. We're not a one-size-fits-all shelter, although sometimes I'd like to be."

Chilen, who was born and raised in Kansas but most recently had been living in Reno, Nev., said he "walked about 20 feet and fell and broke my hip" at the beginning of the year when he arrived in Salina. After a trip to a hospital, he went to a senior center before eventually coming to Wichita.

On Wednesday, he started moving into a low-income apartment for seniors with the help of Inter-Faith Ministries and the Veterans Administration.

Chilen, a Korean War veteran, said he has been homeless "off and on" for 20 years.

"I hate to admit it," he said from his wheelchair, proudly looking at a brochure about his new apartment complex.
 Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle,

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