By William E. Kelly
In late July 2017, I began writing to the six candidates who had announced they are running for the seat currently occupied by termed-out San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts in District 4. They are, in alphabetical order: Bonnie Dumanis, Nathan Fletcher, Ken Malbrough, Marcia Nordstrom, Omar Passons and Lori Saldaña.
During the past eight months, I interviewed each a number of times. Then I asked that they express their thoughts, qualifications, experience, awareness etc. with a focus on the aging of the county’s population, its impact and what can or should be done and why, through a selection of questions I posed them.
Each took the time to provide written replies. Their responses will be shared in the March 2, 16, and 30 issues of Gay San Diego.
The reason for this focus is alarming and frightening. An enormous and growing number of older constituents are living in poverty and too many with a woefully insufficient supply of safe, affordable and accessible housing, food, medical care, transportation, social engagement and assistance to lift them up, or where and when capable, help lift themselves up.
Before endorsing a candidate, I and a growing number of seniors, their families and caregivers need to understand just how aware the candidates are regarding what Stephen Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, has referred to as a “catastrophe” and County Supervisor and chair Dianne Jacob called a “challenge we are unprepared to meet.”
While there are numerous priority issues the county board of supervisors and their constituents are facing, I would suggest none is as gravely serious as this or will impact our lives so broadly as will our aging population.
Which candidates are aware enough and prepared to address this as the priority it needs to be? In the three issues throughout March, the candidates themselves will be informing you just how aware of this crisis they are and where it lies on their priority list. More importantly, their words will help arm you with the knowledge to reason which are and are not prepared to address it.
Many ask me why it is necessary for our communities to collaborate and cooperate with government to help minimize the negative impacts of the aging crisis. My answer is always the same. As our population grows disproportionately older, it will increasingly affect all residents of all ages in every aspect of their day-to-day lives, happiness and well-being. The lack of affordable and accessible older adult care, housing, as well as homelessness, poverty and transportation are related issues burdening and altering both family and community structures, the labor pool and the broader economy.
Voters need to know what feasible steps their field of candidates envision county government is capable of taking to mitigate impacts of an aging population.
Just over three years ago, I wrote an article on “aging.” It stated that for decades, our nation has studied, researched and consistently warned us of what the realities and implications of a rapidly aging population are. In short, it said that if feasible, carefully designed and deliberate strategies addressing our aging and diverse population are not implemented, we will find ourselves faced with inadequate Band-Aids and reactionary strategies that will decimate the national economy and the standards of living will decline for citizens of all ages.
FACT: Currently 1 out of 4 (25 percent) is caring for at least one senior relative, or is a homeless person and/or veteran aged 60 or greater, and by 2039, 25 percent of San Diegans will be aged 60 or over. The 2010 Federal Census projections for San Diego show those 60 years of age or greater will number 200,000 in less than five years.
Further, while there are many challenges commonly shared by all seniors, the probability and priority order of how those issues can be dealt with vary widely from person to person and are dictated largely by geographic location, health, social, cultural, family, education and other variable conditions.
Establishing successful strategies to meet the challenges requires the serious awareness of and earnest collaboration and cooperation between a diverse citizenry, their government, the nonprofits that serve them and the for-profit organizations that depend on them to stay in business.
Only then can the challenges and issues be dealt with in a manner that serves both the common and diversified needs of all San Diego seniors and residents of all ages. To that end, there are no short cuts or one-size-fits-all solutions in a population as diverse as ours.
Before the June 30 primary, I will share my personal endorsement and the reasons for my choice. Until then, through these interviews, you’ll gain the knowledge to make your own.
— Bill Kelly is a longtime local activist who currently focuses on LGBT senior issues and moderates the Caring for our LGBT Seniors in San Diego Facebook page. Access to the group is free to all seniors, their advocates, families, friends and caregivers. Reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.