By Bob Kelly
A crisis is looming. SANDAG’s Growth Forecast predicts that by the year 2030, the local population of adults age 60 and up will double to nearly a million people. That means 1 out of every 4 San Diegans will be a senior citizen — 1 out of 4!
And guess what? We’re not ready to handle this unprecedented demographic shift.
The so-called “silver tsunami” will challenge society’s perceptions on aging and strain the already fragile network of existing services for seniors. For example, in 2014, there were 27 million more people under the age of 18 than those over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, that difference will shrink to roughly 2 million. By some point in 2032 or 2033, older adults will outnumber children in the United States. With fewer young people, there will be a shortage of caregivers for our aging population.
So far, our government and community leaders — and we, as a society — have declined to see this coming crisis as a real issue. In fact, less than 2% of philanthropic dollars in the U.S. go toward seniors. It’s a shocking statistic, but the fact remains, we are not taking care of our most vulnerable population.
Within that population, the aging LGBTQ community faces an even greater set of challenges, including discrimination and higher rates of illness and poverty. There is also an increased risk for social isolation, which has been deemed “the new silent killer” because of its severely negative impact on a person’s health.
At the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation, we are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) working to ensure every senior has someone they can turn to and trust. One of our main focus areas is on raising awareness about and increasing support for senior orphans.
What’s a senior orphan? Senior orphans are older adults who for various reasons — including lack of nearby relatives, never having children, never getting married, divorce, or even in some cases, the death of a child — are alone and have no one to care for them as they age. The numbers are staggering. A recent study estimates nearly a quarter of Americans 65 and older are at risk of becoming senior orphans or are already in this situation.
These figures are even higher among the LGBTQ community, and will rise dramatically as the senior population swells over the next decade. According to Sage — an advocacy and services organization for LGBT elders — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are twice as likely to age alone and four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual counterparts. Research also indicates that LGBT people are less likely than their straight peers to seek out senior centers, meal providers, health care services and other available resources for fear of being harassed or discriminated against.
So where does that leave senior orphans in the LGBTQ community? Who will they turn to and trust?
It’s time to do something about this situation. And I have always believed philanthropy is the key. Throughout the course of my career in public service, I have seen time and again what philanthropy can do. It has the power to transform organizations and entire cities. It has the power to transform communities and entire generations.
It’s time to mobilize this power.
One of the biggest challenges we are up against is the fact that seniors have never inspired much of a rallying cry. But why? Why are people so indifferent to the plight of our aging neighbors?
We are all going to get old someday, if we aren’t already. We have all watched our grandparents and parents grow old, and likely been faced with tough decisions regarding their end-of-life care. And we all know someone who is a senior orphan.
One of the first steps we can collectively take is to raise awareness about the coming demographic shift and unique challenges it will present within the LGBTQ community. Next, we need to identify innovative organizations and services that address the needs of seniors, and look for opportunities to create new programs, especially those with an emphasis on senior orphans. Then, we must increase our charitable giving to these organizations.
If we take these vital steps, we can create a better future for this generation of seniors and generations to come, in the LGBTQ community and beyond. Together, we can ensure they are no longer vulnerable, but vibrant.
For more information on how you can help seniors in our community, please visit sdscf.org.
— Bob Kelly is the founder and president of the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation and president emeritus of The San Diego Foundation.