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Silver Tsunami Alert: A Boomer Wave is Coming, and San Francisco is not Prepared

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Silver Tsunami

Rejecting the Governator’s transparent attempt to balance a bungled budget on the backs of students, children, people with psychiatric diagnoses, and elders, Californians voted down six of his May 19 Special Election Predatory Props, including 1D and 1E, that targeted youth and people who use and need our communities’ mental health services.

Nonetheless, elders and people with disabilities are still simultaneously whacked by Federal, state, and City budget cuts.

Faced with a $575 million budget shortfall—proportionately worse than the state’s—San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is trying Arnold’s gambit: During an economic downturn when Federal and state funds are needed most, he’s slashing Department of Public Health services to San Francisco’s most vulnerable people in order to balance his budget.

You didn’t read in the pro-Newsom Chronicle that Tuesday, May 12, at 10:30 a.m., almost 700 elders, folks with disabilities, and supporters baked in the Civic Center sun under the Mayor’s office window protesting the budget cuts. This was the Silver Tsunami.

These dangerous “terrorists” wore T-shirts warning “Call Me Old, Then Call 911” and held signs announcing “The Senior Moment is NOW!” At quarter to noon, Mayor Newsom perhaps ducked in through a side door, directing the SFPD to shut the Seniors down on a permit technicality.

The Brass Liberation OrchestraMaybe the police were confused by Supervisor-negotiator Ross Mirkarimi’s billion-dollar sentences. Perhaps they feared trampling by furious seasoned citizens wielding crutches, canes, or purses, yelling dangerous chants like “Gavin’s not treating the Seniors right. Let’s give him a big Spank!” The megaphone blared, “Spank! Spank! Spank!” to the Brass Liberation Orchestra’s New Orleans jazz. Whatever—the fuzz gave up.

Henny Kelly did insist, “We need a senior riot!” but City Hall was not stormed. Though the above-described scene smacks of Monty Python’s “Gangs of Old Ladies” bit, no kerfuffle ensued. In fact, 73-year-old Lenny Reiter described 700 quiet, respectful elders in chairs happily socializing over lunches made by meal providers including 30th Street On Lok and Meals on Wheels.

At the rally, Commissioner Edna James for the Department of Aging and Adult Services, read a letter to Newsom requesting that other departments share cuts equitably. DAAS made all the cuts they could, some other departments did not. Newsom returned asking DAAS to slash the most crucial poor and disabled services—food programs like Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, Kimochi, Western Addition and Bayview Hunters Point; meals and other programs at On Lok’s 30th Street Center, the Curry Center, the Aquatic Park Senior Center (the oldest in the City), and the In-Home Support Services supplying aides who help wheelchair-bound seniors with crucial tasks they cannot do alone—housework, cooking, shopping, doctor visits, and wound-cleaning. The cuts damage those providing services and immobilized people desperate for their help.

Edna James insisted the Commissioners didn’t want to cut any more until all departments had done so. “It wasn’t fair. We did our part. So don’t come back until all the departments comply with the Mayor’s requests.”

The event’s hardworking planning committee arranged for transportation for seniors, chairs, food, and speakers. Coordinated through the Coalition of Agencies Serving the Elderly (CASE), the committee included James Chionsini, the “go-to guy” of Planning for Elders in the Central City’s Health Care Action Team (HAT); James Keys, Health Program Director for Senior Action Network; Ashley McCumber, Meals on Wheels’ Executive Director; Jim Illig, Director of Project Open Hand and Health Commissioner; Valerie Villela, 30th Street Director; Nelu Zia, SF Adult Day Services Network; Stephanie Asbell, Program Director of SF Family Service Agency; Colleen Rivecca, St. Anthony Foundation’s Advocacy Coordinator; David Knego, Curry Senior Center Director; and others.

Margaret Baran, Executive Director of the In-Home Supportive Services Consortium, said, “We brought a bunch of clients today. They mainly stay home, but we are thrilled we were actually able to get some out to this rally. Great turnout! People did a lot of work getting it organized—the meals and chairs.”

CASE literature commits to facilitating 40,000 seniors’ and San Franciscans with disabilities’ living “safely with dignity and independence in their homes and communities,” and “increas[ing] their participation in the City budget process.”

Believing “a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable,” CASE asked Mayor Newsom to restore funding. “Cutting senior services will mean [difficulty meeting] basic needs: [a meal, access to information and healthcare, and social activities], increasing isolation and hospitalization.”

CASE’s research documents that “by 2030, one in five San Franciscans will be over 65.” It warns that San Francisco is not ready for this tsunami wave. They urge the Mayor to “create a budget that respects SF elders, keeping them in the community and out of expensive institutions like hospitals and nursing homes.”

James Keys told the crowd, “If they don’t stop taking cuts from senior programs now, when your children become your age, they will have nothing. They will be homeless out in the streets. Do we want that?”

The cry resounded, “No!”

Keys called, “Do you hear that, Gavin Newsom? Seniors don’t want their programs cut!”

Marie Jobling, Community Living Campaign, previously presented the Insight Center’s Economic Security Index Study to the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. This study paired San Francisco’s soaring expenses with bottomed-out fixed incomes of San Franciscans ages 65 and up. Jobling wants cost of living increases for seniors and people with disabilities.

DAAS Commissioner Betty Landis saw the concept of a tsunami several ways:

An elder tidal wave so huge people start paying attention.

A surge of age 50 to 60 laid-off workers, not rehired, homeless, without services.

An aftermath of total economic devastation.

Said an observer about the Baby Boomer Tsunami due to hit with no plan, “Seniors vote a lot,” so the growing wave, “can sink Gavin’s Governor-Ship.”

Supervisor Chris Daly thanked the organizations that made the Silver Tsunami happen. “We cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of those who built this city, who deserve to live [here] with dignity and honor.”

Joanne Smith sat in the crowd holding a sign bearing elders’ photos created by Bobbie Bogan of Seniors Organizing Seniors. Without explanation, the State sliced the first of two $20 cuts from her Disability check. The second cut looms in the next couple months. $40 is a huge chunk from her low, fixed income. Five years ago, when her leg started to buckle, this subsidized International Hotel resident and disabled arthritis-sufferer retired from her nurses’ aide job. If cuts deprive her of morphine, pain stops her in her tracks.

“They shouldn’t take money from the poor,” she insisted. ”I don’t see [the rich] taking a [pay cut] to make sure the City Hall lights go on.”

Could you live on $870 a month in San Francisco? Funny, smart, 74-year-old former dancer Vicki Westland does. “If I skim by on everything, don’t make a long-distance call, breathe, get shoes, or whatever, I have approximately $50 a week to eat on.”

Working as an operator taught Vicki the art of wake-sleeping. AT&T may eliminate “Life Line,” a senior discount phone rate. An activist most of her life, Vicki spoke at AT&T State Building hearings where English barrister-types (Vickie wanted to dress them in curly wigs) woke-slept behind a raised dais, just their heads visible. “These six AT&T regulators looked down at us, drinking coffee, half asleep. Pay attention!” she said. They laughed.

Governor Schwarzenegger took $43 from her Disability income, and who knows how much more to come? In July, Medi-Cal cuts will eliminate vision and dental assistance, hearing aides, medications, and creams and lotions for her degenerative and psoriatic arthritis, an auto-immune disease that makes her hands and feet itch, burn, and bleed. Sometimes, walking in the ocean relieves it. A two-week trip to the Dead Sea would cause remission. “Who wants to do that?” she laughed.

“Medically, I’m frail.” Arthritis compromises her hands. Degeneration in hips and spine prevents her reaching her toes. She fears falls, and needs help with cleaning, medications, and equipment.

Like most elders, Vicki tells a housing horror story: She experienced nine hellish years of abusive management. Now, she loves her subsidized housing at under $300 a month.

“I am seeing more people [of all races] who, ten years ago, would never have thought of going to City Hall and protesting out of need, necessity, and fear.”

“I am a Boomer, born in ‘46,” said Raymond Vega, a Latino San Franciscan. “Sixty-three this July.”

Ray was part of the Silver Tsunami because “We need to make the City, state, and government aware that people’s lives are affected.” Ray’s life definitely is. He needs Denti-Cal. (“I am starting to lose teeth.”) Medi-Cal cut back his In-Home Support Service from five days to four. “The workers are losing employment.” He is concerned about Verdie Jones, a compassionate listener who has worked 20 years and would have been a strong support during his upcoming spinal surgery for lower back and neck degenerative arthritis.

A former worker with people with developmental disabilities, Ray’s gentle manner belies his constant pain: He suffers lower backaches and swollen diabetic feet. Delay in getting a new motorized wheelchair inhibits food shopping and important visits to friends, family, and his nurse practitioner. Pushing a manual chair a mile to Mission Bay Safeway is an arduous ride-walking trip, 30 minutes each way. A return cab is a $5 expense.

There’s not much wiggle room on $900 a month in the highest rent district on Earth. Ray must budget every penny for rent, food, utilities, transportation, medications, dry cleaning, and incidentals. This balancing act is the monthly senior brain gym. Still, each person finds satisfaction in things taken for granted by others—a call from a sibling, a dollar day at the racetrack, a trip to Vegas, a large-screen television, beating the budget devil to buy some coveted item, cooking a great $2 meal, or a good conversation with a friend.

The stress of worrying about loss of future services adds a burden that wears down one’s lightness of heart. Ray seems to manage this with patience, Vicki with assertive humor, and Leonard Reiter with hard-won acceptance and self-control.

Lenny is an artist, creating interior and landscape architectural drawings. Trained at Brooklyn, New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute, Lenny took his art traveling to Israel and Italy. Early struggles with emotional issues related to family and 1950s attitudes towards gay men gave him discipline and self-understanding. An emotional disability forced him to stop working early. Like Vicki and Ray, Leonard knows what he needs, how to save, how to plan ahead, and how to spend within his limits. He lives on Social Security, a small inheritance, and paid teaching jobs. However, his professional salary may have provided a freeing financial buffer others don’t have. He gives through an abundance of volunteer work.

Seniors age at very different mental, emotional, and physical rates. However, money, or lack thereof, is a great equalizer.

Spirited friends Laura Cheney, 84, and Feryl Logue, 79, lunch at Trinity Church. “Socialization keeps you healthy.” They support Meals on Wheels’ continuation. “That’s the only food well over 100 seniors get a day.” They report that these elders worry how they’ll eat after the program closes on June 30.

Dark-haired attorney Lucia Trujillo provides Mission-based legal services to seniors at La Raza Centro Legal, a program suffering cuts. She believes these “most vulnerable US Citizens… should not be the ones hurt in this economy.” Those “getting paid the most should sacrifice their paychecks to give to the needy, the poor.” Her clients losing their SSDI “can’t shop at Safeway: It’s too expensive for them. They must think about how they will utilize their money to eat for the week.”

With meal programs gone—even Glide and St. Anthony’s feeding less—the pressures will be even greater.


Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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