Half of San Francisco’s homeless population is 50-years-old or older, UCSF initiative shows

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Sixty-one-year-old Melvin Priestly panhandles holding a cardboard sign asking passerbys to smile and have a nice day, but he has little to make him smile these days.

The San Francisco native says he spends his nights in a tent in the Tenderloin and keeps his meager possessions strapped to his wheelchair since he’s chased away every morning. 

This is the second time he’s been homeless.

He says he’s been down on his luck since being disabled in an accident several years ago.

“I have a bad leg,” he said. “I was hit by a car years ago, it’s really bothering me really bad.”

This time around he says it’s hard sleeping on the street at this age.

“But what can I do?” he said. “I don’t have a choice right now, just deal with it, you know.”

Priestly is part of a growing demographic living on the street.

According to the UCSF Benioff Homeless and Housing Initiative, in the early 1990s, only 11 percent of homeless in San Francisco were aged 50 and older.

By 2003 that number swelled to 37 percent. 

Now when discounting homeless families and the young, they estimate that 50 percent of the homeless population here is 50 or older.

The largest increases are people over 65 and that number is expected to triple by the year 2030. 

While 50 might not seem old enough to qualify someone as a senior citizen, the director of the UCSF homeless initiative says physically living on street is hard on the human body.

It turns out if you’ve been living your life in poverty particularly, if you’re homeless, it really takes an incredible toll on your health,” said Margot Kushel, director of the USCF Homeless Initiative.

She says this aging population is going to make tackling the homeless crisis even more challenging and more expensive because of the services they need.

“We found is that even though this population is in their 50s or 60s right now, predominantly a huge percentage of them are extremely high risk for requiring nursing home care,” she said. 

“I need a place bad, this is not, this is not no place for somebody to be,” Priestly said. 

He’s working with a homeless outreach team trying to get into a navigation center and hopefully soon because he doesn’t want to still be outside for another rainy winter at his age.  

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