Montana seniors grapple with rising cost of living

Montana’s elderly population living on steady incomes is becoming homeless amid inflation.

The recent boom in the housing market and the rising prices of groceries and other essentials are taking their toll on everyone. However, the elderly and other earners have been particularly hard hit. Not only are many struggling to make ends meet, but the economy has cost them their homes altogether. This is especially true for Montana seniors.

Recently, homelessness among people over 60 has risen sharply. Not only have the pandemic, the housing market, and the surge in groceries and gasoline hit these people, but inflation is eroding their fixed incomes from retirement pensions and Social Security income. Data showing an increase in homelessness among older people is still limited, but advocates in the field point out that they are seeing more older adults turning up in shelters.

The state of Montana is particularly hard hit. Since 2019, rent rates have increased nearly 40% in Lewis and Clark County alone, according to a study published in the CoStar Group Washington Post. The growing demand for rental properties and the resulting rent increases have been driven in part by paid remote workers who can take advantage of the state’s large housing market rather than having to be in the same area as their workplaces, which can be crowded.

Montana seniors are struggling with the rising cost of living
Photo by Marcus-Aurelius from Pexels

According to data from the US Census Bureau, Kalispell is the fastest growing city in the US with fewer than 50,000 residents, and the poverty rate among the over-65s has increased from “8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021.” increased to Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO of the National Council on Aging. According to a recent survey of older adults released earlier this month, “about 44% have had housing issues in the past year, and only 10% felt housing was affordable.”

Alwin said: “People who depend on traditional retirement incomes like Social Security struggle to afford basic needs. You’ll find that individuals are often about $1,000 a month short of meeting their real needs.” Plans to increase the cost of living by 8.7% will help offset some of the effects of inflation. But Alwin believes that will not be enough.

At the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana seniors “in their 60s are the second largest age group served,” according to program director Lisa Sirois. She has “seen people in their 80s and 90s who didn’t have a place,” and the home “had to turn some of them away because it wasn’t designed for their needs.”

Brian Guyer, director of the Human Resource Development Council’s housing division in Bozeman, said that if his home cannot accommodate an elderly person (because it doesn’t have the resources to accommodate disabilities or special health conditions), it has to turn them away. He said an elderly man froze to death after being denied a place at a Bozeman shelter because “he was incontinent and had mobility issues. It was actually found outside of a Lowe’s store here in Bozeman,” Guyer explained.

With the economy expected to only worsen in the coming months, it’s hard to tell how many more Montana seniors will lose their homes and turn to shelters, and whether there will be enough space to accommodate the flood of new homeless people.

The Montana Coalition to Solve Homelessness is a new organization that plans to advocate for shelter providers during the state legislative session beginning in January 2023.

She wants to call for a change in the state’s Medicaid program so that homes are eligible and these funds can be used and expanded individually.


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