A 76-year old woman tearfully told her story of living in a van after her two sisters died of cancer last year and then her van was hit by a car, demolishing her mobility and home. “My life is in storage in Sierra Vista,” she shared.

Mary lost her home in the foreclosure crisis and lives now with an 80-year old who provides her a room in exchange for services around his home.

A World War II vet lost his “job” house-sitting and was desperately seeking housing. “I have until February and there is not much out there.”

Another man lived in his van for five years before landing a subsidized room in the city of Tucson. “I am warm. I am safe. I have my own restroom and don’t have to walk a mile to find one.”

These stories and many others were shared with the nearly 100 individuals who attended the Dec. 5 Community Forum on Affordable Housing for Seniors. The forum was a first step in finding more housing solutions, and it was heartening to have all local jurisdictions that play a role in housing represented. Officials in the audience included Mayor Jonathan Rothschild; Richard Elias, chair of the County Board of Supervisors; Sally Strang, director of housing and community development for the city of Tucson; and Jim Murphy, president of the Tucson Housing Foundation. State Rep. Kirsten Engel was also in the audience.

Rothschild noted: “The bottom line is that we don’t have enough housing for seniors in our region.” He urged seniors to complete the upcoming census. “Elders are the big uncounted population. Our money comes from the Feds and if you’re not counted, we get less funding.”

We face a major crisis on the elder housing front and the forum put a human face on the overwhelming stress beneath the statistics. Baby Boomers are aging at a rate of 10,000 a day through 2030. Combine that statistic with the relatively high level of poverty in Pima County and you have a public health crisis that demands solutions.

As Chair of the Older Adult and Housing Action Team, I am encouraged that the various jurisdictions in our region are paying attention. Additional community forums and a symposium are planned for 2019, and solutions emerged from the forum.

Howard Myers, a production builder told the attendees, “The Armed Services can put together whole cities in weeks. If we deal with zoning, infill and utilities, the density of elders will make it work. The technology is there. We just need community support and the jurisdictions to get behind us.”

The forum was a start toward that end: Garner community support, engage all jurisdictions and we can create and provide the housing and care that every one of our elders deserve.

L’Don Sawyer is CEO of St. Luke’s Home, a nonprofit assisted-living community for low-income elders and is Chair of the Elder Alliance Older Adult and Housing Action Team.