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More seniors in SLO County facing hardship

Many seniors in San Luis Obispo County own their homes, feel safe in their neighborhoods, stay active and take advantage of local cultural and recreational activities, according to a local survey.

But a growing number are also spending more than one-third of their incomes on housing costs, have little money in savings and are requesting more free home-delivered meals from a local nonprofit program.

The survey of 544 seniors was completed last year as part of a report by Action for Healthy Communities and was recently released. The timing was intentional: the first-ever San Luis Obispo County Senior Symposium will be held Friday to discuss challenges and opportunities in providing care to local seniors.

The county has a higher population of seniors compared to other areas of the state, with one in five county residents age 60 or older. Statewide, one in seven residents is a senior, according to the American Community Survey.

And as more baby boomers near retirement, “people are starting to wonder, ‘What does this mean for our community?’ ” said Janice Fong Wolf, director of grants and programs for the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation, one of the organizations sponsoring the SLO 2025 senior symposium.

“We’re concerned that the services aren’t going to be available in the amount they need to be,” she added. “We also want to have healthy communities so that seniors don’t become isolated.”

While the survey found that many seniors in San Luis Obispo County enjoy a high standard of living, a growing proportion of older residents are falling into poverty and need more assistance with daily activities.

For seniors on limited incomes, addressing basic needs including food and affordable housing is a growing concern, the survey concluded, and 50 percent of seniors interviewed said they were worse off in 2010 than in the previous year.

“Prices are going up, gas has gone up,” said H. Lou Seybert, 77, who has lived in Nipomo for more than 20 years and is the Nipomo Area Senior Center’s newspaper editor. “So many of the seniors are just living on Social Security and are widows like myself. We bought our homes when our husbands were living and we make enough to maintain our places but Social Security doesn’t go up.”

The survey also found:

From 2006 to 2010, there has been a 15.5 percent increase in drivers age 60 and older.

Ninety-five percent of seniors had health insurance.

Eighty-five percent of seniors own their home, but 48.2 percent spent more than one-third of their income on housing costs.

One-third of the seniors surveyed earned less than $35,000 a year, and 13 percent of seniors said they did not have at least $300 in savings.

More than half of seniors had participated in physical activities in the last week for 30 minutes or more on five or more days.

More seniors are requesting meals from the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County, which drops off food to seniors at their homes and at 10 sites countywide.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the nonprofit organization served 135,000 meals, with about two-thirds of those delivered to clients at their homes, said Executive Director Elias Nimeh. This past fiscal year, which ended June 30, the group served 173,000 meals.

“There are constant increases and demand and phone calls for more meals,” he said.

A lack of funds for the home-delivery program forced Nimeh to stop accepting new clients for home delivery, and start a wait list. The list has 56 names.

Action for Healthy Communities conducted telephone interviews last year with 1,100 randomly selected residents, including the 544 seniors, mined secondary data sources and conducted in-person surveys of some people, such as the homeless and non-English speakers.

Data on specific subjects, such as basic needs, economic stressors and seniors, and the full report can be found on the United Way of San Luis Obispo County’s website at www.unitedwayslo.org/action10.

SENIOR SYMPOSIUM DETAILS

The SLO 2025 San Luis Obispo County Senior Symposium will bring together representatives from the business, nonprofit and public sectors as well as senior groups to discuss long-term, critical issues regarding healthy aging in the county.

The symposium will include discussions on a wide range of topics such as senior housing, hospice care, family conflicts and elder abuse, access to lifelong learning and recreational opportunities, and unique challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors as they age.

Interested participants are asked to make a reservation by Tuesday. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Courtyard-Marriott, 1605 Calle Joaquin Road in San Luis Obispo. For more information, visit www.slo2025.org.

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