Reopening of senior centers shuttered by pandemic shows big need

July 14, 2021
 Rhett Gillins, Barbara Franklin, Amy Patrick, Linda Naert of the Lowcountry Senior Network assemble bags for homeless seniors.
Rhett Gillins, Barbara Franklin, Amy Patrick and Linda Naert of the Lowcountry Senior Network assemble bags of supplies for older adults in need. Photos provided

When you think about homeless people in Charleston, you may picture men and women with signs asking for money at traffic lights downtown or groups gathered for free meals near the Ravenel Bridge.

But there’s another side to homelessness here. People who have reached the age where they’d normally be thinking about retirement are instead focused on just getting by. They often go unnoticed by most people – but not by the area’s advocates for homeless seniors.

“There are a lot from other places up North, you know, they come from all different places. Maybe something doesn't work out –they might've come for a reason, and it didn't work out,” said Karen Carter, activities director for Charleston Area Senior Citizens.

The problem is growing, according to experts. One report said the number of elderly people who don’t have homes may triple over the next decade, as baby boomers, who make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population, get older.

 Lynn Dierke, Cynthia Footman and Jean Ott hold bags of supplies for homeless seniors. Dierke is with the Lowcountry Senior Network. Footman and Ott are with a senior center. 
Lynn Dierke with Cynthia Footman and Jean Ott of the Dorchester County Senior Citizens Center.

The pandemic made getting help a little more difficult, said Kelly Franklin, coordinator for the Center on Aging at the Medical University of South Carolina. “The senior centers have just reopened and we're already noticing that after the first week of being open here downtown, people are already starting to show up at the doors. I think that can be attributed to the lack of low-income housing that’s available for seniors in our area.”

Thinking about how to solve such problems can seem overwhelming. But right now, the MUSC Center on Aging and the Lowcountry Senior Network have a relatively simple way for you to contribute. They’ve organized a supply drive and are asking the public to donate items that can make life a little easier for men and women in the later years of their lives.

To fill the senior homeless supply kits, they need:

  • Canned chicken, tuna, fruit and vegetables in containers with pop tops.
  • Peanut butter, granola bars and peanut butter crackers.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes.
  • Nail clippers.
  • Deodorant.
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Wet wipes.
  • Toilet paper.
  • Socks.
  • Hats.
  • Hand crank radios.
  • Phone charging units.

Carter said socks, for example, can make a big difference in someone’s day-to-day life. “People who are able to walk, that's their only mode of transportation. They're constantly walking. They don't have any other socks, so that might be the only pair they get.”

But some homeless seniors can’t walk, or they may have other issues. They need not only supplies but also the knowledge that people care about them. “I've got some in wheelchairs. I've seen people on the street that have lost hands due to diabetes. They're in a wheelchair, homeless. They find any nook and cranny they can to stay in, stay out of the weather, stay safe. They're scared. They feel alone,” Carter said.

Barbara Franklin of the Lowcountry Senior Network puts bags of supplies for homeless older adults in her car trunk. 
Barbara Franklin puts bags of supplies for seniors in her trunk for delivery.

Franklin said they don’t have to be alone. There are people who want to help. “We've just been utilizing the Lowcountry Senior Network volunteers to put together the bags and collect items, but we’re always happy to have more help if people want to come out to the senior centers and help out with distribution.”

The 50 kits they’ve given out so far have been well received. “They've had some very good responses from people. They thought they were going to show up and maybe get one meal but walked away with something that would help sustain them for a much longer period. They were very happy,” Franklin said.

“And we're hoping that as the word spreads, we'll get more and more people that can take advantage of these bags. We're hoping that this will help a lot of people that may not be seen out in the public from day to day that may have been forgotten. And we want them to know that we still are trying to help them.”

If you’d like to contribute, you can drop off items at the Trident Area Agency on Aging in North Charleston. You can also contact Kelly Franklin.

About the Author

Helen Adams