Aging Sacramento braces for the future

Local population entering senior years as rents rise and housing shrinks

As senior citizens make up an increasingly large portion of the population, Sacramento County officials are bracing for ways to build up the safety net for aging adults.

The county’s Adult Protective Services division is already seeing an uptick in demand, and recently arrived before the Board of Supervisors with a striking report.

Since 2010, the total number of investigations pursued by APS increased by 130 percent, to nearly 5,600 investigations last year. The majority of the increase is attributed to upticks in the senior citizen population in Sacramento, as well as growing awareness of the program, according to APS.

Within the next two years, Sacramento County’s population of adults who are 65 and older is expected to grow by 21 percent. By 2030, the senior population is expected to grow by an additional 41 percent, according to the state Department of Finance.

Struggles with affordable housing and homelessness are contributing to the growing vulnerability of aging residents, said Ruth MacKenzie, the county’s manager of senior and adult services. More often, older adults don’t have the “three-legged stool” of financial stability—equal parts social security income, pensions and personal savings—that retirees traditionally depended on in the past, she said.

“Rents are continuing to increase in the Sacramento area, and older adults have fixed incomes,” MacKenzie said.

Under the recent report, older adults who have difficulty communicating for themselves, are isolated or are homeless were identified as the most vulnerable group in need of services.

A 2017 point-in-time count found 472 unsheltered homeless persons over the age of 55 in Sacramento County. Homeless adults comprise about 10 percent of all cases that APS investigates.

Among the hundreds of shelter beds offered throughout the county, only 22 beds are dedicated to chronically homeless elders, a staff report says. There are only six emergency shelter beds available at a safe house for older adults experiencing family violence.

The six-bed shelter, which is primarily frequented by adults who go through APS, turns away at least three adults seeking shelter daily. The supervisors provided vocal support for building another safe house in south Sacramento, though nothing official is on the books yet, with no timelines or money set aside yet for the shelter.

Out of the cases that APS pursues—about half of the total call volume—an even smaller amount of investigations lead to prosecutions by the district attorney’s office, due, in part, to a lack of documentation.

When it comes to protecting older adults or those with disabilities, the county doesn’t have the authority to remove individuals from abusive situations as its Child Protective Services can do with minors. Services are performed on a voluntary basis.

“Oftentimes a loved one just wants the hurt to stop,” MacKenzie said. “They don’t want to see a family member go to jail.”

Some strides have been made to reduce financial abuse. APS’ financial team recorded that it has prevented $16 million in theft over the years, either from pensions, life savings or real estate.

Looking to the future, APS is also working to expand its transportation program for older adults, possibly contracting with rideshare programs as well as its telephone programs to provide older adults with social support.