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Seniors are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis

Many Americans are aging on fixed incomes at a time when the cost of living is rapidly climbing — and this is particularly true in San Diego, which is considered one of the costliest urban areas in the country.

“These are people that have lived and worked here in San Diego their entire lives who have just been priced out of the system and unable to finish, in essence, in their homes that they had,” Teresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change, told NBC San Diego.

Dreams for Change is a nonprofit that operates safe sleeping sites for individuals experiencing homelessness across the city. Smith said about 45% of these folks are 55 and older.

She added, “I think it's happening more rapidly now because of the cost… It is pushing them out of those housing situations and there's nothing to jump back into.”

More than 40% of seniors in the city do not have enough money to cover basic housing, food, health care and transportation, according to The Elder Index, developed by the University of California Los Angeles’ Center for Health Policy Research.

To make matters worse, San Diego is grappling with a lack of shelter beds, plus a major housing shortage that’s driving rent prices through the roof.

The median rent in the city is nearly $3,000 a month, about 50% higher than the national median, Zillow reports.

“My rent went from $800 to $1,600 and I couldn't afford to move back in after they remodeled,” 69-year-old Chuck Scott told NBC San Diego. He used to reside in a one-bedroom apartment, but has been living out of his truck for the past two years.

“They said they would give me the first choice to move back in, but I only get $1,000 a month in Social Security,” he added. “How can I afford to pay $1,600 a month? I can't.”

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What needs to change?

Kushel has long advocated for expanding the supply of affordable housing and availability of rental assistance programs in order to prevent homelessness before it occurs.

“We need to make every effort to create more housing, lowering the cost of housing, increasing housing subsidies, so that being an older adult living on a fixed income doesn't mean that you have to be homeless,” she told NBC San Diego.

“We need to readjust our homeless services sector so that it is responsive to the needs of older adults.”

Recently, San Diego County approved a two-year program that will match low-income older adults with locals who have a spare bedroom. The program kicks off this summer.

Eligible individuals are expected to pay no more than 30% of their total monthly income towards rent and, in some cases, can even perform some sort of service (such as cleaning) in exchange for cheaper rent.

Some experts also recommend providing shallow rental subsidies to older adults each month.

The city launched a pilot program last year to provide $500 a month in rental assistance to 220 senior households chosen by lottery.

More than half of the older adults who were surveyed said an additional $300 to $500 per month in income would make the difference between being housed and homeless, according to research from Serving Seniors, a San Diego nonprofit that supports older adults living in poverty.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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