Senior Philadelphians Experiencing Homelessness | Robert Waters Testimony
Councilmember Kendra Brooks invited Project HOME to testify Tuesday, February 22 at 10 a.m. at the Committee on Intergenerational Affairs & Aging to talk about issues related to shelter and seniors as well as the current challenges for vulnerable people related to COVID. Jonathan Juckett, senior program manager of our Outreach Coordination Center, will present testimony on our behalf alongside resident Robert Waters, who will speak about his experiences as an older adult working to access housing with appropriate supports.
Thank you to Robert and Jonathan!
My name is Robert Waters, I am 63 years old and a resident of Project HOME’s St. Columba residence, a safe-haven residence for men. I am here to tell my story from the heart. Being homeless is a major stumbling block, especially for a senior. It feels like now that we are all used up, we are put out with no place to live.
I was raised by both parents. I went to college. I raised my own family and I’m proud that my children are doing good!
I worked in construction, and things went downhill after I had a heart attack. My doc told me that I couldn’t live like that anymore, so it's been 20 years since I’ve been able to work like I did. From there my life spiraled downward. It’s a domino effect—not working, homelessness—one thing and then another.
It was tough living on the streets with health problems. I am taking pills for diabetes and for my heart and I also have trouble breathing. It is hard to take medication on time when you are living on the streets. Addiction is still bothering me, but I get back up and dust myself off.
I came off the streets when it was snowing. I had to do something about my situation. I had health problems and was dealing with withdrawal symptoms, too. Last February, a homeless outreach worker came and helped me get connected to the Hub of Hope—they have a health program and other services for people living on the streets. It’s been a great help, especially dealing with COVID. A doctor with Project HOME has helped me with prescriptions. I’ve been trying to get my health together but having surgery and being homeless was terrible.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to get off the streets. After my three surgeries, I went to nursing home for a week and then moved back to St. Columba because I had no place to live. I now live at St. Columba, and I am grateful for the program and for the support from staff at Project HOME. I get three square meals a day and a bed, and I've been here for a year. I even made it through COVID in January. I am glad to be alive.
All the staff do their best, but they aren’t qualified to offer some of the care we need. My daughter could be my home health aid, but her hours were cut because I live here. We have a nurse that comes on Wednesdays. It would be nice if she could be there more. Most shelters don’t even have that option.
It took me a year to get a housing voucher after sleeping in a dorm during a pandemic. Everyone should have their own place to sleep. I am ready for the next chapter of life.
Fingers crossed that I will move in next month and my daughter will be able to be my home health aid again.
I know that I am one of the lucky ones. Some of these older guys have had terrible experiences in shelters. We need to be treated as adults and not like a piece of trash. Life in a shelter is hell—while I’ve never been to hell but I can only imagine. Where I stay it has a wheelchair ramp, but a lot of the places don’t. All the shelters must be accessible and safe. It’s easy to feel discouraged when you come to a shelter for help, but then you don’t get the help you need.
Having people that care about you makes a huge difference. Philadelphia needs more places to like St. Columba. And places like St. Columba need more appropriate supports for seniors like me. Most importantly, we need permanent housing so that seniors can leave shelters and be more independent. We need medical support, supportive staff, and training for staff. We need to make sure that there are options for people who are struggling with addiction and mental health. Housing is health care and it needs to address all the areas—physical, mental, and emotional.
I am grateful for this opportunity and this third chance at life. Thank you for listening and for taking action.