COCOA, Fla. — As baby boomers get older and inflation continues to rise, homes are becoming less and less affordable, and experts say that combination is leading to more senior citizens becoming homeless.

What You Need To Know

  • Nearly one in four homeless adults are over the age of 55

  • Homelessness among seniors is estimated to triple by 2030

  • Nearly a third of senior households are considered cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly one in four homeless adults is over the age of 55. 

For one Brevard County couple, this is their new reality. At 72 and 83 years old, Petrona and Juan Solis said homelessness is not a situation they ever imagined they’d be in.

“We are here to do some shopping,” said Petrona Solis, as she picked up groceries at the Matthew's Hope Food Pantry for the first time.

She said the Brevard County food pantry is their last option, because also for the very first time, she and her husband are homeless.

“I can’t afford it any longer, the rent is too high,” said Petrona.

The married couple lived in their own home in Cocoa with a $700-per-month mortgage, but said they were forced to move out after it was damaged during a hurricane and they couldn’t afford to repair it.

Petrona said they found a $1,500-per-month apartment, but because they had to rely on Social Security, they couldn’t keep up with the rising costs and were recently evicted. She said they now they live in their car.

“How can I explain it?" she said. "It’s sad."

Matthew's Hope community liaison Sharlene Dewitz said her organization is doing its best to help them. She was helping to get them into a hotel temporarily, but said this is a scenario that is becoming all too common, as she has seen an increase in seniors dealing with the same situation over the last year.

“The challenge is we have to find affordable housing for seniors is the lack of inventory," Dewitz said. "You will have more for certain groups, such as domestic violence or women and children, but we are finding that seniors are very, very difficult to place."

She said the situation has put a lot of strain on their resources.

“The more people that we have come in, the more need for partnerships with the community and support from the community for everything from monetary to food, so we can help these people,” said Dewitz.

While Petrona said she was grateful for the help they were getting, she was frustrated, too.

“Because this is the first time I become homeless," she said. "I feel sorry for the ones before me and after me with the situation that is going on right now."

Petrona was having a hard time understanding how she and her husband ended up without a home, and said it feels like she's been abandoned by the government at all levels.

“Look at us the seniors, we work hard, we vote for them and this is what we get,” said Petrona.

Now, she’s worried about what her future will look like if things don’t change fast.

“I would like to not die on the street,” said Petrona.

Now this is not an isolated issue, as seniors and non-profits are feeling the effects of this all across Central Florida.

A recent report from Harvard is sounding the alarm, as nearly a third of senior households are considered cost burdened, which means they are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Charles McKenzie, a computer lab volunteer at the First Step Shelter in Daytona Beach, said he knows firsthand how fast a person can become homeless. At 67, he found himself on the streets after facing some medical bills, despite having had a career as a college professor.

He spent eight months at the shelter before he was accepted into Section 8 housing. 

“It was a slap in the face, really, to understand that I could not afford housing," he said. "Affordable housing was out of my limits because of several other life variables, and this place was the first step to get back to that reality."

First Step Shelter executive director Victoria Fahlberg said her organization is currently sheltering more than 70 people a day — a nearly 15% increase from last year.

“A lot of them are people who have been in housing and then when their lease came due, they weren’t able to continue paying their rent,” she said.

Fahlberg said the increases have put a strain on resources for many local nonprofits.

At the First Step Shelter, she said they are in desperate need of clothing for both men and women. They are asking for all sizes of never-used underwear, T-shirts, gym shorts, and women’s sports bras.

Matthew’s Hope is also in need of both monetary donations and food — including single-serve non-perishable food items, cereal, milk, juices, and fresh fruits.

The organization is also running low on travel-size hygiene items, jeans, and running and mesh shoes.