The New Face of Homelessness: Elderly and Disabled 

The story of three brothers evicted from their family home show the difficulties this population faces in the East Bay.

click to enlarge William and Darryl Patrick are living on the street in front of their former home.

Photo by Jade Yamazaki Stewart

William and Darryl Patrick are living on the street in front of their former home.

The Patrick brothers lived in their family home on Berkeley's Evelyn Avenue for most of their lives. Their parents bought the house in 1953, before the brothers were even born. They played Little League at a local elementary school, and attended Berkeley High. But Darryl and William struggled with mental disabilities and could not live on their own. Meanwhile, Frederick began suffering from congestive heart failure in his forties, which made it hard for him to live independently. In 2015, all three brothers were living with their mother. But then she died — and the family began fighting over her estate.

Now the brothers, all of whom are around 60 years old, live in a recreational vehicle on the street in front of their old home. In August, Berkeley police evicted William and Darryl from the house and nearly arrested them for trespassing. They were living there illegally after an earlier May eviction ordered by their brother-in-law, who ended up managing the property.

"We'd been living in the house our whole lives," William said recently. "We're really irate about getting kicked out of our home."

Plywood boards now cover the windows of their vacant house, which the brothers still partly own. The locks have been changed so that they cannot enter. A green plastic wreath decorated with red ornaments still hangs above the home's doorway from last Christmas.

Neighbors managed to convince the police to let the Patricks stay in the RV. But the motor home is badly insulated and doesn't have a functioning bathroom or kitchen, and the brothers are regularly awakened at night by cars speeding by.

Many elderly people become homeless under similar situations. "Disabled adults often become homeless when their caretakers pass away," said Elaine de Coligny, executive director of the homeless advocacy group EveryOne Home.

Disabled homeless people are extremely common in the Bay Area and less likely to find new housing than other homeless people. And elderly or disabled people suffer more serious health consequences from living in the street than their younger, healthier counterparts.

EveryOne Home estimates that 42 percent of the 8,000 people who are homeless at any given time in Alameda County have a disability. The numbers are even higher in Berkeley, which is a mecca for the disabled due to its role in the birth of the disability-rights movement. Some 68 percent of the 2,000 people who annually experience homelessness in Berkeley are disabled, according to a city report. Analysis conducted for the report concluded that having a disability of any kind increased the likelihood that someone would remain homeless by 733 percent.

People over the age of 50 already make up around half of homeless in the United States, according to Dr. Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine and director of UCSF's Center for Vulnerable Populations. And the percentage of homeless people over 50 is projected to keep rising until 2030, with the homeless population older than 65 expected to triple.

Kushel has conducted research following 350 people over the age of 50 who were homeless in Oakland in 2015. Nearly half had never been homeless before they reached that age. Unlike younger people, whose homelessness is normally tied to a long history of issues, Kushel found that people who started living in the streets later in life could often trace their homelessness to a single event. Common causes of homelessness included losing a job, having a family member or roommate lose a job, or having a family member die. Many became homeless after an elderly parent's death led to them being forced out of their family homes. Family disputes over estates were often involved.

Because seniors like the Patricks often receive fixed retirement incomes that do not increase along with rising housing prices, many people who become homeless after age 50 cannot afford new places to live, noted Leslie Gleason, director of programs for Shelter Inc., a group that fights to end homelessness in the Bay Area.

When the Patrick's mother died, she was survived by Darryl, William, Frederick, and their sister, Annette Olsen. Carmel Patrick died without a will, so Annette successfully petitioned to become her administrator in June 2017. Then Annette died in April 2018, and her husband, Michael Olsen, succeeded her as administrator. Frederick unsuccessfully objected in court to both administrations.

In April 2019, Michael hired lawyer Richard Palenchar and sought to evict the brothers from the house. A lawyer representing the brothers without pay objected on their behalf. "Defendants Patrick are senior citizens and not in good health," Elaine Videa wrote. "Evicting them out of their home would cause severe hardship, further injuring their health, and cause severe emotional distress." But the court ordered the brothers to vacate the property by May 14.

Frederick was in the hospital at the time, but William, Darryl, and their terrier Honey Bear started living in a Ford SUV in front of the house. Then they drove the car to Ukiah and lived in it for a couple of weeks in June. But William drove off the side of the freeway one night, totaling the car and landing himself and Darryl in a hospital. Honey Bear wound up in a dog pound. Darryl returned to Evelyn Avenue and started living there illegally, but William spent a month in an assisted-living facility in Sacramento. When Frederick was released from the hospital, he and Darryl immediately drove to Ukiah to retrieve Honey Bear from the pound.

By the time of the second eviction, Frederick was back in the hospital being treated for symptoms of his congestive heart failure. Following his Sep. 6 release, he joined his brothers in the RV, where they have now been living with Honey Bear for around a month.

"I just don't know how long we're going to be out here in this thing," William said.

The brothers' disabilities, like those of thousands of other homeless people in Alameda County, make their lives especially difficult. William was born premature and oxygen-deprived. Their father, who had head injuries from World War II, punched William in the left eye when he was nine or 10, according to a letter from the Social Security Administration. The following year, a neighborhood bully hit William in the side of the head with a rock, causing injury and trauma. Their father also shook Darryl when he was an infant, causing brain damage, according to Frederick. Darryl is also diabetic.

Frederick has been suffering from congestive heart failure for 20 years. This causes edema, accumulations of liquid in his legs. His calves are swollen, purple, and have holes in them where his skin has burst from the pressure. Liquid oozes out of the holes, and he has to change his bandages every day. This is difficult in the cramped space of the RV.

None of the brothers have money right now, and their mother's estate consists solely of the house, which hasn't been sold. So concerned neighbors like their former next-door neighbor Douglas Walters have been helping the Patricks by bringing them meals and other necessities. Walters keeps a cooler in the RV stocked full of ice for storing food. He gave the brothers a water tank so that they could take sponge baths and do dishes.

"These were guys that I was going to see laid out on the street in fairly short order," said Walters, who has lived next to the Patricks for 23 years, and used to chat with their mother over the fence. "I didn't think it was anything they deserved by any means."

He worries that Darryl and William's stint in Ukiah shows what might happen to them without help.

Meanwhile, neighbor Andrea Henson brought the brothers' case to Osha Neumann, a lawyer with the East Bay Community Law Center who specializes in homelessness. Neumann and Henson have been working to find an assisted living situation for the Patricks, but haven't had any luck.

Elderly and disabled homeless people often can't live independently and need assisted living situations, which are becoming scarce and expensive in the Bay Area. Between January 2016 to August 2019, dozens of residential care facilities for the elderly closed in Alameda County, according to Dr. Robert Ratner, the housing services director at the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. The remaining facilities normally cost more than $4,000 per person per month to stay in, Ratner said.

Such facilities have all but disappeared in the Bay Area, Kushel said, because rising housing prices have made them economically unfeasable. The brothers said that when they looked into finding board and care houses to stay in, they were told that the only one available was in Sacramento, and that the wait period for entry was three to five years.

That long being on the street could kill an elderly person in poor health. "The very experience of being homeless makes chronic health conditions worse because it makes it hard to get prescriptions, go to the doctor and get to appointments," Shelter Inc.'s Gleason said.

Neighbors have called various social service organizations, so far to no avail. Despite the brothers' obvious health issues, Adult Protective Services evidently doesn't consider them dependent adults because they don't have enough documented physical and mental disabilities to qualify.

As a mother of a 24-year-old with mental disabilities, Gleason is worried about what will happen when she dies and her son is left on his own.

"We see what's happening to 60 and 70 year olds now, and we're afraid," Gleason said. "We're scared to death about what's going to happen to our kids."

In spite of it all, the brothers are luckier than most homelwess people in the East Bay because they have support from friends, Neumann said.

"Imagine how hard it would be for a homeless person without a phone, a computer or a permanent address to get the help they need," he said. "Know that the difficulties we are facing in trying to help the brothers are the same difficulties that homeless people face across the Bay Area and across the country." 

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