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Who will care for our aging baby boomers?

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Last year, San Francisco created the Dignity Fund, which sets aside an annual baseline of $38 million over 20 years toward services for seniors and adults with disabilities. (Courtesy photo)
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Too many seniors and their caregivers are isolated and struggling without adequate services and support. Currently, more than 25 percent of San Francisco’s population are seniors or adults with disabilities, and more than two out of every five of these individuals live alone without sufficient support at home.

With median rents for a single-bedroom apartment in San Francisco averaging $3,600, more than 60 percent of seniors cannot afford to stay in The City. What will happen to this growing vulnerable population — most of whom live on fixed incomes — especially as our city becomes less and less affordable to reside in? How will our city help seniors age with dignity in their homes and communities and prevent our loved ones from becoming institutionalized or homeless?

It was not until recently that The City began focusing on this population. We started addressing some of these challenges with a few policy changes. The Board of Supervisors successfully passed legislation in 2015 to make Muni free for low- and moderate-income seniors (ages 65 and up). We also requested a performance audit of senior services citywide, because in some areas of The City, like in District 7, activities were scarce despite having one of the highest concentrations of seniors citywide.

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Last year, San Francisco created the landmark Dignity Fund — the first of its kind in the nation — which sets aside an annual baseline of $38 million over 20 years toward services for seniors and adults with disabilities. The fund passed with 66 percent of the vote and is being implemented this year. It is important to ensure that the funds are used in a transparent way that prioritizes the highest community needs and is accountable to the community. Services will include access to nutritious meals, wellness programs to maintain an active lifestyle and education about legal rights to prevent abuse. Seniors deserve to age independently in the comfort of their own homes and stay connected to their communities.

But these initiatives are only the tip of the iceberg. The senior and adult with disability population is projected to grow — becoming 30 percent of San Francisco’s population by 2030.

These small strides may not keep up with the growing and diverse needs of San Francisco’s aging population, which includes veterans, LGBT seniors and seniors with HIV, dementia or other chronic conditions. If gaps in services are not met, our friends, neighbors and loved ones will face greater risks. And their families — often the sole caregivers — will be under greater emotional, physical and financial stress. It is also important to remember that San Francisco is a city where a high percentage of older adults and disabled adults live alone with no family nearby. The negative consequences of isolation are many, which makes social supports even more necessary.  

The City has an opportunity to immediately address some of these gap in services and support with the additional resources provided through the Dignity Fund. We are holding a hearing March 9 at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. We need you to come and to share your views on the needs of seniors and adults with disabilities.

With the passage of the Dignity Fund, San Francisco is on its way to becoming a truly age and disability friendly city, but we still have a long way to go. There are major gaps in in-home support services that cannot be filled with the Dignity Fund. We need thoughtful solutions to challenges related to workforce opportunities for seniors and adults with disabilities as well as ensuring that services reach the most isolated. We need to make sure that the current digital divide no longer exists for older adults and disabled adults. Our best, collective thinking is needed to ensure that seniors and disabled adults do not get left behind.

When our city is designed with the needs of seniors and adults with disabilities in mind, it will make San Francisco safer and more inclusive for everyone.

Norman Yee represents District 7 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Anne Hinton is the former executive director of the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services.

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