Are You Hungry? Too Many San Francisco Seniors Are

senior-groceryLots of us could be heard complaining we ate too much over the holidays. But many of our neighbors have had far too little to eat over the past year. The recently released report Assessment on Food Security in San Francisco,” produced by the San Francisco Food Security Task Force,  highlights the food insecurity issues faced by seniors and adults with disabilities across the City.

San Francisco currently has the highest percentage of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) recipients who are over the age of 65 years, with over 27,000 seniors on SSI, or almost 25% of all seniors.

Unlike every other state, Californians receiving SSI benefits are not eligible for CalFresh (formerly called Food Stamps) even thought they are below the federal poverty guidelines. The maximum SSI benefit for seniors covers only 62% of the basic costs of living for a San Franciscan senior who owns a home outright, and 38% of those costs for a renter, according to the CA Elder Economic Security Index.

This index estimates the amount a retired older adult needs in San Francisco to adequately meet his or her basic needs, without private or public assistance, is $27,282.  Nearly two thirds of San Francisco seniors fall below this level.  Low-income seniors living independently or in senior housing in San Francisco have little to nothing left over for groceries after housing and healthcare costs.

Key Recommendation

Establish a local food assistance supplement for disabled individuals and seniors who receive SSI to enhance food security for these vulnerable individuals (like “Healthy SF” for health access).

Key Challenges 

Physical and Cultural Barriers - Access to food for seniors and disabled adults is complicated by considerations such as

- proximity to a grocery store.

- physical ability to travel to a food store, pantry site, or meal site or availability of transportation.

- language barriers.

Seniors suffering from food insecurity need an array of food assistance options to address their food needs, as isolation issues and fluctuating mobility and nutritional needs necessitate movement between different types of services. The options for seniors and adults with disabilities to access nutritional assistance are a congregate lunch site, a free food pantry site,or applying for home-delivered meals or groceries. However, these are not federally funded entitlement programs, and they are often at capacity and are designed to be supplementary only.

In order to avoid pre-mature institutionalization of seniors and adults with disabilities, a network of community supportive services must be in place to ensure vulnerable populations are supported to live at home. Home Delivered Meals and Home Delivered Grocery programs are geared towards serving those with the greatest physical, social, and economic need who are frail, have limited ability to purchase or prepare meals, and have little or no support from family or caregivers. Many are physically challenged due to a variety of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, vision loss, arthritis, and diabetes. Agencies providing on-site and home-delivered meals and groceries are experiencing increased demand for services while limited funding prevents service expansions.

Nutrition spending decreased by $1 million dollars (5%) in San Francisco between 2007 and 2011.

Organizations raised more private funds than expected to support the increased demand, which is not sustainable and puts the safety net further at-risk.

Key Recommendations

•  Increase funding for successful programs (home delivered meals, home delivered groceries, shelter meals, free dining rooms).

• Incorporate affordability into the analysis of the “accessibility” of food at retail establishments.

• Increase number and variety of Restaurant Meal Program vendors accepting EBT, including local restaurants that bring cultural, nutritional and geographical choices to beneficiaries.

•  Fund a mandate that all seniors and adults with disabilities on the citywide wait list for home-delivered meals are served within 30 days.

Key Challenge:  Living Alone

Just over 30% of seniors (65+ years) in San Francisco live alone. Challenges such as loneliness, lack of companionship and cooking for one can threaten an older adult’s health and well-being.

Key Recommendations

• Organize options for cooking, socializing, and sharing resources in a shared kitchen space.

• Develop a handbook of nutrition tips as well as healthy, tasty, inexpensive and interesting recipes “for one,” also including shopping tips and food staples for older adults.

By working to implement these recommendations, we can take significant steps toward making your neighborhood (and every San Francisco neighborhood) a “No Hunger Zone”.

To learn more about Food Insecurity in San Francisco, you can view the whole report with detailed information by Supervisor District.  And keep following this blog to learn how how you can help.



4 Responses to “Are You Hungry? Too Many San Francisco Seniors Are”
  1. Basya Petnick says:

    This is such an important issue. I happen to know that there are times in San Francisco when men and women who are more than 100 years old are on waiting lists for food. This is unacceptable anywhere, but amidst the wealth of the Bay Area, it is intolerable.I hope we can come up with some creative and powerfully effective solutions to the problem.Thank you, CLC, for sharing the report and educating more of us about the situation.

  2. Becky says:

    This breaks my heart! Reading a great book about the elderly and the struggles they go through, “Rich in Years” by Johann Christoph Arnold ( really helped me understand seniors much better to get a better look at what they may be going through. I think everyone should read this book so that they can have some empathy for these dear people. Taking care of our elders should be a priority!

  3. Becky says:

    You are welcome!

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