North Helpline / by Ellie Ohiso

The Challenge of Senior Hunger

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it can be easy to lose sight of just how many seniors there are in our community.  Many of them live on fixed incomes and in affordable housing. Due to their age, seniors often have high cost health care among other expenses.  At North Helpline, we are committed to looking out for everyone in our community, and we feel that it is especially important to think of our seniors, who are too often overlooked.

In addition to North Helpline’s two food banks and the emergency services we offer, other organizations are looking out for seniors a well.  For example, we caught up with Akira Ohiso who works at Sound Generations in Lake City. He works with older adults who are experiencing homelessness or are close to it.  Together with Hunger Intervention Program, Sound Generations provides meals at Lake City Community Center including lunch and to-go meals. 

Akira said “On an everyday level, when you feed someone a meal, the person serving the meal gets some sort of instant gratification from it.  There is something to seeing people and helping them in that moment. The frustrating part is systemically, these huge, seemingly immovable systems have to change in order for this to be solved.  I don’t know how to do that. With current government programs and the way real estate is, the whole thing is a mess to be honest.”

Akira sees how food insecurity often overlaps with the affordable housing crisis.  “I think when you are on a fixed income, especially when it is something like a thousand dollars a month, and their rent is 800, it just doesn’t add up.  I had one gentleman who came in recently who gets $975 a month, and his rent had just gone up to $1200 with a private landlord. He has a little extra savings here and there, but he can’t make it work long term.  So we are looking at housing opportunities in Seattle which are long term solutions, basically sitting on waitlists for three or four years, and it doesn’t seem like there are any immediate solutions for what is going on right now around housing and the homeless.”

Our executive director Kelly knows that housing is a huge issue to tackle.  She also underscored the cost of healthcare as a particular concern for seniors.  She said, “One of our volunteers and clients was taking a heart medication every other day, and after she started coming to the food bank, she was able to take her medication as directed.  So people are skipping meals, going without, or risking their health in order to feed themselves.”

Feeding America, the nationwide organization that runs Food Lifeline in King County, sees the same problem.  “Nearly 5 million senior citizens currently face hunger in our country. After a lifetime of hard work, 63% of the households with older adults (50+) that Feeding America serves find themselves facing an impossible choice — to buy groceries or medical care.”

With the magnitude of senior hunger problem, what can we do?  We all have our part in the web of compassion and service to our neighbors.  Whether it is supporting a local nonprofit or just saying hello, our insistence on acknowledging seniors and the challenges they face sheds light on people’s various needs.  We won’t always know what our neighbors are going through, but we can be grateful that the web of human services including North Helpline is able to help seniors to help themselves, and to never have to go hungry.