Survey on aging Berkeley population prompts community discussion

Sam Levin/Staff

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The Berkeley Commission on Aging gathered for an “Age Friendly Forum” on Wednesday to hear the results of a communitywide survey and to voice its opinions about how a changing city could effectively include its elderly residents.

Steve Lustig, director of the age-friendly project in Berkeley and a former UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor of health and human services, opened the forum, which was held at the North Berkeley Senior Center. He described how more than one in five Berkeley residents will be older than 65 in 10 years, and that older community members of all income brackets are increasingly worried about economic security.

Lustig’s presentation painted Berkeley as a city with an active elder community and a place where older community members want to live. But the presentation also described how a combination of rising living costs and unequal access to services is making living in Berkeley less accessible to older members of the lower and middle class.

“I’m worried about the friends I’ve known — shopkeepers, people who work in bookstores, school teachers,” said George Porter, a member of the Commission on Aging, after the presentation. “What are they going to do?”

Lustig described four major domains to focus on to promote quality of life for older community members: transportation and mobility, health and community services, housing, and communication and information.

Lustig gave several recommendations for improvements in these areas. His suggestions included developing a continuum of affordable, local housing options that accommodate older community members, improving transportation availability, affordability and infrastructure, improving access to health programs and geriatric care, and using technology to better connect older adults to city services.

Issues related to the older homeless population also surfaced during the course of Lustig’s presentation. Lustig noted that the over-50 age group is the fastest growing homeless population, and that, of that population, 50 percent were not homeless until old age.

Community members also expressed concern that city leaders would not implement the desires of the elderly community.

“There’s all sorts of things going on in this town that simply are not taking older people into account,” Porter said. “We simply are not on their radar.”

The data that Lustig shared was collected through a broader age-friendly project, a joint effort between the American Association of Retired Persons and the World Health Organization in which city governments commit to including members of their communities of all ages. More than 1,400 Berkeley residents participated in the survey.

“If we fail, life goes on like it is,” Lustig said. “If we succeed, more people will remain in the community, they’ll have more access to services, there will be more intergenerational mixing.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.