“So, we’re walking into the women’s shelter where we have 120 b that are always full,” she said. “And it’s an emergency shelter, so it’s meant to be temporary as we help them get a permanent home and address all of the issues that may have brought them into homelessness.”
Erin, who asked that I not use her last name, had never experienced homelessness before. But after a series of personal losses, including the death of her brother, Erin slipped into a depression and couldn’t function, she says.
Then she lost her job as a business analyst.
“And I used the money in retirement to survive, thinking I could get another job, and it hasn’t worked out,” she said.
Erin’s story isn’t unique.
“I always assumed it was drug addicts or just people that were the lower part of our society. But it’s not. There’s a lot of just everyday hardworking people here and it really surprised me,” she told me.
Glow echoed her observations. Many of the people at CASS would have told you what Erin told me — that it could never happen to them, but it doesn’t take much to lose everything, a medical crisis, a job loss. And that means anyone, you, your co-worker, your neighbor could end up homeless and at a place like CASS.
And many Arizonans are already one paycheck away from homelessness.
There’s also the wage gap, he says.
Domestic violence is also a factor. So is a change in relationship status — like a divorce or death — which can have significant financial implications especially if her partner was the breadwinner.
And then there’s the “motherhood penalty,” a term used to describe the challenges some working mothers encounter compared to their childless colleagues. In this case, Prindiville is talking about the pay gap.
“We’re seeing a very disturbing trend of individuals that lived middle-class lifestyles when they were working age, becoming poor for the first time when they’re older — and that’s a shift.”
— Kevin Prindiville, Justice in Aging
I ask Newsom, if a woman is living on the brink in her 20s, 30s or 40s, can she ever recover? Or is she destined to be one of the more than 4 million women, 65 and older who are living at or below the poverty line?
And that’s the problem, she says. Minimum wage is still low and if you’re single mom with children, it can be very hard to get ahead of the game — let alone save for retirement. Poverty and homelessness can become generational.
Back at CASS, Lisa Glow says something that hits a nerve. She tells me that some of the people who come here have dementia.
“We’re not equipped to deal with all of that,” she tells me. “We’re not funded for that. So, just think about someone who’s sleeping on the streets who has dementia. That’s the reality that we’re facing.”
Since this interview, Glow has hired case managers to work with their growing senior population. The Justice in Aging report did include several recommendations that would strengthen existing supports and programs — like expanding 401(k) participation to part-time employees, enacting paid leave policies and improving access to programs like SNAP.