FAIRFIELD — Patricia Armet lives in the bushes near the railroad tracks in Fairfield.
She’s a stone’s throw from Mission Solano’s Bridge to Life Center, a long-term homeless shelter on Beck Avenue.
Armet and her friend Rusty Martin, both in their 50s, live among their pile of possessions and a tent pitched against a fence, which gives them protection from the elements and passers-by. The bright spot in her existence is Precious, Armet’s lively, friendly pit bull. But she misses the necessities of life.
“I miss being home,” she said. “I miss the toilet. I miss food.”
The lack of necessities, along with aging, are taking their toll on Armet, who said she has been homeless for eight years. Two years ago, she ended up with a colostomy bag after emergency surgery. Keeping the colostomy area clean without regular bathing facilities and obtaining enough bags for monthly use are both impossible, Armet said. She doesn’t get around much since complications cropped up with the colostomy area.
She’s said she’s afraid of dying homeless, either because of those health issues or by someone else’s hand.
Of the 1,635 people pinpointed as being homeless in Solano County in 2012, 47 percent were over the age of 45, according to statistics from the county’s Homeless Management Information System. Twenty-one percent were over the age of 55. Nationally, only 8 percent of all homeless people are 55 and older, said PJ Davis of Community Action Partnership of Solano, Inc.
“Solano County has an overabundance of seniors in its homeless population,” Davis said Tuesday during a presentation at the Solano County Events Center to various service providers who come into contact with the homeless senior population.
The forum, presented by various agencies, including the Area Agency on Aging, follows up on a December forum that identified gaps in services to the senior homeless population. Those service gaps were identified in the areas of mental heath, substance abuse, transportation and housing. Various speakers gave insight as to the state of services in the county.
For county help with mental health and substance abuse issues, the picture appeared financially dismal. Halsey Simmons, director of mental health, and Andy Williamson, director of substance abuse treatment, blamed lack of funding for their inability to help a wider swath of the population. Simmons said that mental heath cases were assigned based on acuity but also admitted there is no field outreach for the homeless afflicted with mental illness.
Williamson said few seniors come through his doors. But he doesn’t want to encourage too many more, either.
“We don’t want to drum up a lot of business because we just don’t have (the funds),” he said.
Peggy Pellon, a program coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging, said she understands the lack of funding.
“It is difficult. That’s why we’re all coming together today,” she said, making reference to the forum during a break. “We have to look beyond what the county can provide. I don’t know if we should expect the county to be the primary go-to. It needs to be a collaborative effort among all providers in the county.”
A variety of paper and pamphlet information about additional resources for seniors was available for providers during the workshop.
Three county transportation systems – SolTrans, Fairfield and Suisun Transit and City Coach – also presented. Vacaville’s City Coach is the only one with permanent services and programs in place for the homeless, with its Opportunity House partnership.
Elvie DeLeon, the executive director of the Global Center for Success in Vallejo, said she would like to see that partnership duplicated between SolTrans and Vallejo homeless shelters. Currently she can get bus passes as needed for her homeless clientele, but would like to see a formalized partnership, she said, after the forum.
Philip Kamhi of SolTrans, like others, cited lack of funds and recent service cuts with the transportation system that largely serves Vallejo and Benicia.
Audience member Robert Fuentes, the executive director for the nonprofit Faith in Action, said the No. 1 request his organization gets is for transportation. He said they get requests from homeless seniors. The ability to transport depends upon volunteer drivers.
His group can only say yes if there is a volunteer in that area, he said.
While Community Action Partnership figures show an increase of 29 permanent housing beds last year, plus several other projects to help the homeless, Davis said the figures also indicate that “it’s time to add a priority to address our senior population.”
Permanent housing is a stumbling block for Armet, who brings in Social Security and Medi-Cal, but can’t come up with deposits, doesn’t qualify income-wise for most rentals and doesn’t want to give up her dog. Raymond Courtemanche, the senior program officer at Mission Solano, has been encouraging Armet to move to the Bridge of Life Center in order to stabilize her medical condition. He offered to foster Precious until she found a place to live.
“It’s going to take time to navigate and find an appropriate place to stay,” he said. “That’s why she’s living in this uninhabitable environment. It’s an inhumane living situation.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.