SUISUN CITY — A substantial portion of the recent Solano County Senior Poverty Summit was devoted to letting local seniors tell their stories – stories that might otherwise remain hidden.
Organizers said one goal is to break through a media image that many seniors are rich and healthy. That isn’t the only reality, they said at the June 17 summit at the Joseph A. Nelson Community Center in Suisun City.
” ‘Tell the story’ – that might be our theme,” Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering told the gathering of about 150 people.
To that end, local seniors Nellie Ruiz, Sandy Costa, Maggie Hart and Dollie Lee shared their experiences. They took to the stage for a panel discussion.
Ruiz lives in Vallejo. She owns her house, which she believes costs less than it would to rent housing. But the mortgage takes about half of her Social Security income.
“I have to save every penny so I can buy food and manage my household,” Ruiz said.
She has kidney failure and her friends take her to her dialysis treatments. Her friends from church check on her and help her with house chores.
“If it wasn’t for my friends, I wouldn’t know how to survive,” she said.
Despite her tight finances, she finds a way to feed her two dogs. She doesn’t view the dogs as a luxury.
“I need that love,” Ruiz said. “I need that companionship from my animals and friends.”
Costa lives in a Fairfield senior apartment complex and is a retired nurse. At 57, she began to have problems with her hands and eventually needed surgery, ending her nursing career.
Her husband died and she lost her home. She lost everything, going from riches to rags, Costa said. She had a mental breakdown.
“Through friends, mostly, I’ve come back to the living, so to speak,” Costa said.
But she sees other seniors facing mental health challenges. Seniors as a whole are depressed and that’s why events such as the Senior Poverty Summit don’t get bigger turnouts, she said.
“They are hibernating in their cubbyhole apartments out there,” Costa said.
Many seniors don’t get financial help from their children, she said.
“Our kids are struggling, let’s face it,” Costa said. “I know in their hearts they want to help us, but they can’t.”
Fairfield resident Hart in recent years has worked at such jobs as being an in-home health care aide and church secretary, but has faced layoffs. More than half of her $1,000 monthly income goes to rent and she gets $83 a month in food stamps. If nothing happens out of the ordinary, she gets by. But if her car needs tires or repairs, she’s out of luck, Hart said.
Lee, of Fairfield, doesn’t get Social Security and draws about $836 from Supplemental Security Income, most of which goes to her rent. At one point, she couldn’t afford food and got so sick that she couldn’t turn over in bed, she said.
She can’t get food stamps. She is looking at making some tough choices about continuing to live in her senior apartment.
“I’m still thinking I’m going to live in my car,” Lee said. “I don’t have any choice. I have to live in my car.”
The summit was designed to get input from the audience on senior issues. Several people came with various concerns.
“They need to have more low-income housing,” Fairfield resident Gladys Douglas said. “You’ve got to have enough money left over. We don’t have a lot left.”
Vallejo resident J.W. Davison is concerned about transportation. He finds it hard to get a bus at times in Vallejo.
“Just expand the hours,” Davison said. “Especially in the summer, because the days are so long.”
Solano County will have a second Senior Poverty Summit on Oct. 16.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.