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Local centers may be unprepared for senior population boom, study finds

SAN DIEGO — A report released Monday by the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation found that the network of senior centers in the county may be unprepared for the growth of the region’s senior population over the next decade.

The foundation visited and analyzed data from the 28 senior centers around the county and seven community centers that serve seniors to prepare the report, which is intended to identify challenges facing local senior centers and how to fix them before the county’s senior population explodes.

Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, people over age 65 number nearly 470,000 and make up nearly 14% of the county’s population of 3.3 million. By 2030, county residents aged 60 or older could number more than one million.

“This influx will strain the already fragile network of existing services for seniors, increasing the risk of social isolation and many other concerns,” said SDSCF Board Chair Ted Chan. “Society is not ready to deal with the reality that the national and local infrastructure is inadequate and ill-equipped to effectively serve a burgeoning senior population.”

The report found that a majority of senior centers and in need of repairs and many are underfunded. According to the report, 21 of the 28 senior centers surveyed were built at least 30 years ago. In addition, many senior centers are understaffed, six have no full-time staff members and 20 are overseen by only one or two full-time employees.

Various external factors like housing affordability and language barriers have also hampered senior centers’ ability to serve older residents. Seniors often have difficulty arranging transportation to and from their local senior center and the facilities themselves are often unable to provide transportation due to shoestring budgets, according to the report.

“The objective of this report is to call out and inspire community leaders, politicians and philanthropists to take action now and create solutions to improve and enrich the lives of San Diego’s older adults,” said foundation President and CEO Bob Kelly.

One potential solution to accommodate the growing senior population is an emphasis on philanthropy, according to the foundation. Nationally, roughly 2% of philanthropic money is donated to senior programs, a rate that has stayed stagnant for the last two decades, according to the report.

The foundation also recommends partnerships with local healthcare foundations and hospital systems as potential funding sources, and the formation of a conference of local senior center leaders to discuss local strategies to accommodate the senior population.

The SDSCF published the report with grant funding from the Gary and Mary West Foundation.

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