Multnomah County Board proclaims May as Older Americans Month

May 5, 2016

Jan Starnes (left) and Dolores Peters addressed the board in honor of Older Americans Month.

Jan Starnes just can’t keep still.

She takes technology classes, sign language lessons, attends trainings on economic security.

She reads to second graders and makes videos with high school students. She has even written a book.

“I’m entering a new phase in my life,” Starnes, 68, said Thursday. “I’m learning how to be a senior.”

Starnes spoke before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday as the panel proclaimed May as Older Americans Month. The proclamation is intended to raise awareness of the issues facing older adults and to highlight the ways older Americans, like Starnes, are working to empower themselves and their community. This year’s theme is “Blaze a Trail.”

“It reminds us of the valuable contributions that older adults make everyday through civic engagement, sharing wisdom and mentoring young people,” said Commissioner Judy Shiprack, who also serves as a liaison to the Elders in Action advisory commission. “The ‘Blaze a Trail’ theme highlights steps older adults can take to secure their finances, stay healthy and find fulfilling activities in their later years.”

Multnomah County, through the Department of County Human Services’ Aging, Disability and Veteran Services division, currently provides a network of aging services that help to address issues plaguing older adults, including housing, elder abuse, isolation, mental health and accessibility. A comprehensive service delivery system places special emphasis on people who speak little English, ethnic minorities, the frail and people with low incomes.

The county, for instance, provides funding and other support to senior centers, including the Hollywood Senior Center, where Starnes recently participated in an event called Cyber-Seniors. She and other older adults were paired with younger people who taught them how to navigate the world of technology and the internet. Starnes said she learned how to upload her book, “Buzzy Bud and the Gift of Everything” during the session. The book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere.

Dolores Peters, meanwhile, touted senior centers’ arts, fitness and language classes.

“I feel and I know that senior centers are working and continually promoting socialization, education, community involvement,” Peters, 65, said. “I personally have experienced and have observed and reaped the value of engagement and continue to thrive and grow and bloom as a senior and I’ve seen that with other folks that I’ve met.”

Peters said she and Starnes frequent so many senior centers -- taking classes, volunteering with students and accessing services -- that they’ve taken to calling themselves “senior center swingers.”

Despite the opportunities available for seniors, many still face immense challenges.

People over the age of 55 make up one-fifth of Multnomah County’s homeless population, according to a 2015 report by A Home for Everyone.

Lambert Adjibogoun of Aging, Disability and Veterans Services

“In my line of work I observe the daily impact of the housing crisis on our communities, specifically on older adults,” said Lambert Adjibogoun, an investigator in the Aging, Disability and Veterans Services division. Adjibogoun said 70 percent of his caseload involves housing issues. Seniors often are evicted because they don’t receive enough income to cover the average cost of rent.

Adjibogoun is part of an effort to re-establish a shared housing program in the Portland area, in partnership with Ecumenical Ministries, Elders in Action and local governments. The program closed in 2013 because of budget cuts by the city of Portland.

“A Multnomah County shared housing program requires minimal resources, only one to two staff to run, can be self-funded and is a viable contribution to housing affordability and isolation among older adults,” Adjibogoun told the board.

Multnomah County’s Aging, Disability and Veteran Services Division is currently developing an age-friendly action plan that will evaluate the service, social and physical environments, including senior centers, that make up an age-friendly community, said Erin Grahek, community services manager for the division.

The plan is expected to be adopted in the fall, following a series of community meetings, where residents can weigh in on topics including nutrition services, safety and abuse prevention and behavioral health.