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'We need help' Cape Coral woman part of growing trend of elderly homeless

A recent survey from a Collier County charity found 1/4th of all homeless people in the county were senior citizens.
Leslie Kerman
Posted at 7:05 PM, May 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-16 19:05:21-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — On a hot day in May, Leslie Kerman seeks refuge in her air-conditioned car.

It’s the only way for her to cool down. Since Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida more than seven months ago, the 72-year-old Cape Coral resident hasn’t been able to find a permanent place to live.

“I don’t want a handout. I just want to be able to get into an apartment,” said Kerman, who has lived in Lee County for 20 years.

Soon after the storm, Kerman says her landlord sold the apartment she had been renting to a developer.

She’s currently staying on an acquaintances couch, but that building has also been sold.

On a fixed-income, Kerman says she hasn’t been able to find an affordable place to live.

At the end of the month, Kerman will be homeless.

“I keep hitting a brick wall,” said Kerman.

She’s part of a growing, and mostly undocumented, problem; more and more seniors are facing homelessness.

Federal numbers show Florida has the third highest homeless population in the U.S. with more than 27,000 residents experiencing homelessness.

However, there are no federal statistics showing how many of those homeless individuals are elderly residents.

“We’re seeing more first-time homelessness and more elder homelessness,” said Steven Brooder, CEO of St. Matthew’s House which operates two shelters in Collier County.

Every year a team of volunteers sets out to count the number of homeless individuals living in the county.

This year, the team found 703 people experiencing homelessness, a whopping 52% increase from the year before. More than 1/4th of them were seniors, according to St. Matthew’s House.

“People want to move on. If they could find affordable housing. But it’s hard,” Brooder said.

During a hospital stay earlier this year, Kerman said she heard similar stories of senior citizens experiencing homelessness.
While no one has an exact grasp on the problem, nearly everyone agrees the problem is increasing.

“So many of them came back to me and said, ‘I go up and down the aisle and there are a ton of senior citizens who have a similar situation to you, they’re homeless,’” said Kerman, recounting conversations with hospital staffers.

Sadly, even the numbers from St. Matthew’s House don’t paint the full picture.

Brooder says it’s impossible to count the full homeless population and instead estimates the problem is two to three times worse than what has been documented.

“There aren’t a lot of places that work hard to help us. And lord knows we need help,” said Kerman. “We need help.”