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State officials get earful from Cape Cod seniors, advocates

HYANNIS — The anxiety older Cape Cod residents experience while trying to hold onto their housing and dignity leads many into depression, advocates for senior citizens told members of the Governor’s Council on Aging Tuesday.

“Lack of affordable housing is a major concern,” said Lynne Waterman, director of the Mashpee Council on Aging, during a forum at the Barnstable Senior Center.

Supplying seniors with an adequate income and better housing options would improve health outcomes, Waterman said.

Housing and transportation were two issues that surfaced again and again during the morning meeting, which drew more than 100 people.

“They are the social determinants of health we all need to be looking at,” said Melissa Weidman of Hope Health.

She knows of senior citizens in Provincetown who say they no longer know their neighbors because the surrounding houses have been sold as investment homes, Weidman said.

“Isolation is one of the biggest, most critical issues that the elderly face on Cape Cod,” Barnstable Town Councilor John Flores said.

In the Cape’s hot housing market even downsizing might not be the answer, given how hard it is to make the numbers work, said state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.

State Rep. William Crocker, R-Centerville, who is also a Barnstable town councilor, said he and others in the state Legislature have introduced bills to create tax credits for caregivers.

Barnstable is considering revamping zoning articles to account for the housing needs of seniors, for instance making it possible for older people to rent out their houses while moving into a smaller accessory apartment on the property.

A representative of Nauset Neighbors talked about how a comprehensive system of volunteers is lessening isolation by visiting older people and taking them to appointments.

The listening sessions were set up so the newly formed Governor’s Council on Aging could get information and innovative ideas about how to help aging residents and their families and caregivers.

The council, which includes Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner and Dr. Laura Iglesias, a geriatrician at Baystate Medical Center, among its members, is expected to make a preliminary report to Gov. Charlie Baker by the end of 2017.

The Hyannis session was the third of four scheduled around the state, with a final session scheduled for Aug. 2 in Pittsfield.

The Cape meeting drew advocates for senior citizens from across Southeastern Massachusetts, including Barry Cornwall of Marshfield, who has experience as a volunteer tax adviser for the elderly.

Rising property taxes are a major impediment to older people staying in their homes, Cornwall said.

As the country ages, so do the homeless, said Karen Ready, manager of St. Joseph’s House in Hyannis, formerly known as the NOAH Shelter.

From November of 2016, when the Catholic Diocese of Fall River took over the shelter, to June 30, seven shelter residents have gone to nursing homes, Ready said.

In that same time period, the shelter has served 89 people aged 55 and older, including 34 over age the age of 62, Ready said.

“For us as an agency this is a crisis,” Ready said. “Our elders should not be in shelter.”

“We have a problem for veterans” who can’t afford $6,000 to $9,000 a month for nursing home care, said Joseph Gentile of Centerville. “We need a place for veterans to go to.”

Barbara Waters, 80, of Chatham said many older people are concerned about the political events in Washington, D.C.

Some people say, “‘It’s okay, we live in Massachusetts,” said Waters, a retired teacher. “I want to know how safe we are.”

— Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.

Article source: http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20170725/state-officials-get-earful-from-cape-cod-seniors-advocates

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