Many elderly below SF's hidden poverty line

Eighty-year-old Richard Ow is scrapping by, earning less than $24,000 annually from his pension as a former post office worker since he retired two decades ago.

By federal government standards, Ow isn’t impoverished. But by San Francisco calculations, the Chinatown resident is living in poverty.

Still, Ow considers himself more fortunate than some of his friends who are earning less than $800 a month from Social Security, he said. The median Social Security check in San Francisco is $11,319 annually — only $500 above the federal poverty line.

“I’m on a really tight budget,” said Ow, who pays $500 a month to live in an SRO along Kearney Street. “I’m an old man, I am all by myself, so I have to stay in The City.”

Elderly residents are increasingly tapping into food banks and lining up for free meals. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t consider them poor enough to qualify for many assistance programs.

The federal government considers a single person earning $10,830 or less a year as living in poverty. However, state and local agencies say that many seniors earning double the federal cutoff still live in poverty.

An estimated 9 percent of San Francisco seniors live in poverty, according to Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

A report released last week by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development shows 61 percent of San Francisco residents 65 and older earn less than $27,282 annually — the bare minimum a single senior citizen needs to cover rent, food, transportation and out-of-pocket medical bills, according to the center.

While President Barack Obama has made some efforts to shift the formula so that it better reflects poverty in various regions, those initiatives have been slowed by politics.

No politician wants to see poverty increase on their watch, said Susan Smith, program director at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a national research group.

“The longer you go and not improve the methodology for the poverty line the worse off residents are in high cost areas,” Smith said.

The recession has added to the problem, and homelessness among senior citizens is on the rise. Seniors account for 12 percent of the homeless population occupying shelters, according to the San Francisco housing officials.

“They will end up making sacrifices like skipping a meal or cutting their pills in half to last longer or they forgo paying rent,” Smith said. “More and more are showing up to food banks.”

The San Francisco Food Bank said it’s seen the demand for its food bags increase by about 25 percent in the past year. Meanwhile, the number of San Franciscans on food stamps has grown by some 55 percent in the past 17 months.

“I hear the seniors are starting to show up on the free meal programs where they have not before,” said Paula Jones, director of food systems for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The San Francisco Food Security Task Force is expected to release an updated draft report on Oct. 6, highlighting trends on food insecurity among families and the elderly in San Francisco, Jones said. 

Where seniors live

The senior population in San Francisco, by supervisor district

District 1
Seniors 65+: 9,720
Seniors 75+: 5,279

District 2
Seniors 65+: 8,693
Seniors 75+: 4,154

District 3
Seniors 65+: 11,238
Seniors 75+: 5,734

District 4
Seniors 65+: 9,527
Seniors 75+: 5,324

District 5
Seniors 65+: 13,133
Seniors 75+: 7,124

District 6
Seniors 65+: 11,207
Seniors 75+: 6,028

District 7
Seniors 65+: 7,791
Seniors 75+: 4,439

District 8
Seniors 65+: 10,691
Seniors 75+: 5,192

District 9
Seniors 65+: 11,786
Seniors 75+: 6,485

District 10
Seniors 65+: 6,723
Seniors 75+: 3,222

District 11
Seniors 65+: 6,682
Seniors 75+: 3,228

Source: San Francisco Food Security Task

Hidden poverty line

105,000: Senior citizens living in San Francisco
More than 52 percent: Seniors earning between $10,800 and $27,000 annually
12 percent: Population in homeless shelters who are 65 years old and older
Year San Francisco increased its supplemental housing for seniors by 491 units

Annual food assistance for seniors

District 1
City-funded meal sites: 3
People served city-funded meals: 1,022
Number of meals served: 71,586
People served home-delivered meals: 234

District 2
City-funded meal sites: 2
People served city-funded meals: 1,744
Number of meals served: 28,428
People served home-delivered meals: 175

District 3
City-funded meal sites: 4
People served city-funded meals: 1,066
Number of meals served: 112,305
People served home-delivered meals: 493

District 4
City-funded meal sites: 1
People served city-funded meals: 354
Number of meals served: 23,872
People served home-delivered meals: 165

District 5
City-funded meal sites: 6
People served city-funded meals: 2,300
Number of meals served: 141,212
People served home-delivered meals: 297

District 6
City-funded meal sites: 11
People served city-funded meals: 4,451
Number of meals served: 215,182
People served home-delivered meals: 500

District 7
City-funded meal sites: 2
People served city-funded meals: 577
Number of meals served: 19,460
People served home-delivered meals: 140

District 8
City-funded meal sites: 3
People served city-funded meals: 1,751
Number of meals served: 80,858
People served home-delivered meals: 277

District 9
City-funded meal sites: 3
People served city-funded meals: 777
Number of meals served: 29,946
People served home-delivered meals: 129

District 10
City-funded meal sites: 5
People served city-funded meals: 792
Number of meals served: 48,912
People served home-delivered meals: 276

District 11

City-funded meal sites: 2
People served city-funded meals: 205
Number of meals served: 6,020
People served home-delivered meals: 252

Source: San Francisco Food Security Task

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalNEPPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

San Francisco police investigated the scene of a police shooting near Varney Place and Third Street on May 7. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD shooting may prompt new body camera rules for plainclothes cops

Police chief says incident ‘should not have happened’

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference about a $12 billion package bolstering the state’s response to the homelessness crisis at the Kearney Vista Apartments on May 11, 2021 in San Diego, California. (K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
Newsom promises sweeping change in California’s $267-billion budget

John Myers Los Angeles Times California would embark on the most ambitious… Continue reading

Despite the pandemic, San Francisco has ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Better than expected tax revenues leave city with $157.3M surplus for this year

As the fiscal year nears an end and Mayor London Breed prepares… Continue reading

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa hold a photo of their brother Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by a Vallejo police officer early Tuesday morning, as they are comforted at a memorial rally at the 24th Street Mission BART plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State Department of Justice to investigate Sean Monterrosa shooting by Vallejo police

Attorney General Rob Bonta steps in after Solano County DA declines case

Most Read