Illustrations by Dall-E mini.

The Humboldt County Grand Jury has just released the latest in its series of 2021-2022 reports. This one, titled “Silver Tsunami Warning: Safeguarding Our Seniors,” is the result of its investigation into elder abuse in the county, and how local government agencies respond to it.

As the introduction notes, the investigation was broadened to include services to homeless senior citizens after a social worker who was interviewed made the suggestion that homelessness was, in itself, a form of elder abuse.

What did the grand jury find, during its investigation of these matters? Mainly, it hopes to see county government — mainly the District Attorney’s Office, which has a team dedicated to prosecuting these cases, as well as Adult Protective Services — do a better job in outreach. Many seniors don’t know of the resources available to them, either when they are victims of abusers or when they have trouble fulfilling their own needs.

Also: The grand jury would like to see shelters and/or shelter beds devoted exclusively for homeless senior citizens. Some seniors avoid existing local shelters, the report finds, for fear of theft or violence. Senior-only housing would decrease the threat, and the grand jury notes that there are currently lots of state grants available for such programs.

Download the full Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury Report at this link. The report’s summary can be found below.

Humboldt County is a great place to retire, if you have good health, a home to live in, medical insurance, a social safety net and people that care about you. But what if you do not have all of the things listed above? What if your health is failing? What if you can no longer make your house payment or rent? What if a neighbor, health care provider or family member is hurting you? What if you are getting confused or forgetful? What if you suddenly realize that you have much less money in your bank account than you thought you did? You may be suffering from elder abuse and not even know it. You may know that you are being abused but might not know how to make it stop. Where can you find help?

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury (Grand Jury) has been posing these questions to local social services, law enforcement, housing authorities and non-profit organizations. We have found that there are resources in place to provide services, procedures for reporting and investigating elder abuse, and agencies to help find low cost senior housing. We have also found that there is an overwhelming demand for any type of housing with waiting lists that are extremely long. We believe agencies and organizations can do more to provide services for older people by enhancing the services they offer; giving better information to people about how to report elder abuse; and offering homeless shelters exclusively for seniors.

The 2020 U.S. Census report stated 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, and everyone from that generation will be at least 65 by 2030. As of this writing over 136,000 people live in Humboldt County and more than 25,000 of them are seniors.1 In 2030 it is projected that approximately 34,000 of our citizens will be seniors.2 How are we, as a county, going to prepare for this eventuality? What services and safety nets should Humboldt County start to think about in order to prepare for the inevitable graying of the largest group of seniors and the fastest growing demographic in the history of this country and our county? Our report examines the challenges our older family members and their friends face as they age into a new and sometimes confusing chapter of their lives. We also attempt to clarify the currently available senior services and safety nets, our County’s immediate need in this regard, and how our County can better prepare for the future.

When a senior suffers a catastrophic event (a serious medical condition, loss of a spouse, people taking advantage of their finances) they may sacrifice meals and important medications to make ends meet on a fixed income.3 Nearly 92,000 California seniors are behind on their rent, according to a May 2021 survey.4 After these seniors have sacrificed their health to keep a roof over their head, if they then lose that housing, they are in an even more vulnerable situation as they try to survive, often without family or friends to offer shelter.

Adult Protective Services (APS), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), local law enforcement agencies, and the District Attorney’s Office (DA) are here to help our senior population. All these agencies strive to keep people cared for, fed, provided with proper health care, and generally safe and healthy in their own home. When the system fails, seniors find themselves hungry, thirsty, desperate, mentally ill, disoriented, assaulted, battered, and living on the streets, now members of our homeless community.

If you or someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse, contact Humboldt County Adult Protective Services at 707-476-2100 or 866-527-8614. If the issue is emergent or life-threatening, call 911.