Little House in the Back Yard
an alternative shelter for one on a modest income
by Susan G Holland
The number of Americans 65 and older is expected to nearly double by the middle of the century when they will make up more than a fifth of the nation’s population, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday. NYT quote from 2014
This writer, a person due to be 80 years old in eight months, still has a lot of contemporaries who are part of the Graying Of America left on the face of the earth. Yes, we are dying, but not as fast as we used to. We present a problem to today’s society.
Perhaps it is part of “the plan” for us to peter out faster with the shrinking up of our so-called “retirement” income. Medical insurance has gobbled up enough of mine that I am now living on less than many in the poverty level.
If I were not one of the lucky ones whose family thinks it’s a good idea to take the elders into the family household, I would be on welfare, and I would be in a small rented unit partly subsidized by the government — probably in a complex with others like me, and with very little disposable income. I would not have a car. I would not eat out. I would not be able to pursue my art or probably even keep my soft little cat as a companion and muse.
In a year or less I might be shipped off to a nursing facility on Medicaid. I have spent some time 30 years ago visiting my own blind dying father, helpless with both legs amputated, in one of those facilities. It is a dreary setting to say the least. Even the so-called “good ones” sound bad, smell bad, feel bad, and are the ultimate insult to human dignity.
He said to me one evening, as he lay in his bed in a shared room (with a fellow patient who made kissing noises loudly day and night,) “…and I am one of the lucky ones who has visitors every day. Some of these poor souls have nobody come to see them ever!” My father had a transistor radio — the only “media” he could use because of his blindness. One of the “nurses” swiped it right out from under his nose. There were other incidents worse that that at a perfectly “nice” nursing home here in the suburbs, including secret molestations and cruelties.
There are indignities that happen naturally to old people. I am one of the lucky ones and I am finding this out for myself. There are early losses. The hardest losses are friends dying. And then there is the loss of mobility. And the loss of hearing, which is something that seems a sort of rudeness to others who have to repeat what they say all the time. (and sometimes they roll their eyes.)
And the tiredness, and the forgetfulness. Does anyone realize what the cost of fine-tuned hearing aids is? $4000 per ear, for what I need, the doctors say! $4000 is about a third of my YEARLY net income!
Medicare will pay for hearing specialists but not for the corrections prescribed.
Losses and indignities are mean rewards for being a decent human being and loving your friends and family. They are insults to good people who have worked hard and responsibly in their lives to keep food on their families’ tables and a warm hearth.
I am saddened to the core that such people should be shipped off to one of two beds in a room with underpaid and depressed workers regarding them as “work” rather than people. I am not frightened for myself because of my special family. But I am frightened for so many of my contemporaries who are already lonely and needy in their “interim-housing before death.” I call it that because one in this spot doesn't know what losses come next — it might be a kindly death while asleep, or a wretched death in a strange room with strangers (or apparent strangers) not much surprised by death and of two minds about whether to fuss over it all.
There is a woman I know, an amputee whose family cannot or will not keep her in their various single family dwellings. Family do live nearby, but they are limited themselves by disability and hard times.
But she is one of the lucky ones. She does have a place to live. She fell down a week or so ago and it was a long time before anyone got over to get her back up. But she is determined to have a life. No, don’t send her books — no place to put them. One of her grown children lives in the next town. That family is hampered by disability within it as well, but they do what they can.
Does this seem like a thing that offers a grandmother and great-grandmother joy as she “enjoys her golden years?”
In Seattle area, where I live, the trend toward “Tiny Homes” is making a bit of headway. It just began happening in a city where zoning laws and ordinances has previously made extra buildings on a person’s property illegal unless they were for sheds or garages.
People have been housed in garage lofts illegally, I dare say, for years. Grown kids home from college, maybe, or a single young adult working downtown? But can people afford even these alternative places to live? Recent statistics about prices of rentals in Seattle are stunning and disgraceful! Even the single room rentals!
Doesn't it seem good that some people are being allowed to build a habitable building on their own property, separate from the main house, but near enough to enjoy the safety and familiarity of “home turf?” Doesn't it seem that it would do a family good to have an elder living nearby, and comforting to be able to help them when help is needed?
Or would the tiny homes be lustily consumed by adult children who have no jobs and are hanging out into their fifties with their parent or parents? Would there even be vacancies?
And so, would those who cannot free-load off parents then become street campers, dependent on government resources and often dragged down with drugs and alcohol?
Our society right now is over-populated by old people — the surge is upon us and will be for some years to come. Then we will eventually die and thin out. The post war surge of births will have petered out, and there will not be such a glut of seniors taking up space, money, Medicaid money, welfare, hospitals and nursing homes.
And we are over-populated by younger people without jobs or even an interest in jobs if it means working for tiny wages. Will they also begin to die off because of un-affordable or unavailable health care? How could a person working at minimum wage pay out thousands of dollars a year to get health insurance? Only by somehow qualifying themselves for welfare. Just dependence on medications is enough to require counseling and then get a name so one can claim welfare assistance. Or dump themselves into a jail cell where the government must feed and house them.
Until then, could we and should we consider Tiny Homes? How about easing the zoning and putting well planned little houses in back yards. Maybe more than one. So that grandma and grandpa or Uncle Jim can have a space on planet earth to call his own and have familiar faces around and be aware of the family doings? Someone to call the aid car is necessary for them. Someone to help them get out on the front porch.
Would it solve or exacerbate the sad state of affairs? The old people are helpless and the homeless people are stuck. And there seems to be no solution. Oh well.
Sometimes I think our current culture’s willful blindness to this problem results in an attitude that says, tacitly, “Let them die off.” Does anyone else see a Dickensian overtone to this? Will we have urchins and street wenches who live on, creating a squalid sub-life that lives and dies without anyone noticing or caring?
Depressing, isn’t it? Like the days of the Great Depression. It was hard on the people who lost all their stocks. They jumped off buildings, some of them, and made news. There were many who just died of hunger, disease and exposure. We learn about those as if they were characters in a fable or fairy tale. Nope, they were real, and they were people with lives, and loves, and hopes, and possibilities. We whose forebears survived the depression, even with the collapse of the money system, don’t think it could ever happen to us. The old people wonder,remembering our grandparents’ struggle with want and need, and the street people know first-hand — they don’t have to wonder about destitution. They are the “other people” we lucky ones cannot really relate to because they are, to us, “the characters in a Dickens novel.”
We wonder, idly, about the Tiny Houses, and then put it aside. But what if one of those Tiny Houses was what we had to move into because our own house became unaffordable? What if that Tiny House was for me?
Ruminations by Susan G Holland ©2017