WGBH: What happens when you lose your home at 72? (January 9, 2023)
As an early August sun rose over Newburyport, 72-year-old Judith bought a cup of coffee at a drive-thru and continued across the street to St. Mary’s Cemetery. She pulled up her Volvo SUV near a water spigot among the headstones, and got out to wash her neck and shake out her bedding.
It was a morning routine she’d established months prior after she was evicted from her apartment, and began living in her car as she struggled to find a new place she could afford. As winter wore on, she found snow easier to live with than the cold rains of March. And as summer arrived, she used mosquito netting so she could leave her car windows open at night. And as the second winter in the car approached, Judith tried to be stoic: she insulated the car windows from the cold, and slept under layers with a hat and thick socks. But, she admitted, despair had crept in.
The line between being housed and unhoused was thin for Judith for many of the same reasons it is for other older women: a low-paying career, time spent out of the workforce to care for family, and financial dependence on a spouse who died. Record rents in Massachusetts have made the hold on housing even more tenuous.
In the long term, experts say greater pay equity, access to childcare and social security credit for caregivers will help disrupt housing insecurity for women later in life. But the problem is far more urgent than the time it will take to make policy change.
“Right now the boat is filling up with water and we’re bailing, but not fast enough. So I think that the important thing to do right now is to try to stabilize people in their homes who are precariously housed,” said Patti Prunhuber, director of housing advocacy at Justice in Aging, a legal organization that fights senior poverty.
Her organization found that because many women face high rent burdens without housing assistance, “more women are experiencing homelessness for the first time as older adults.”