Resources for a 63yo woman in NYC on the financial brink of homelessness
February 23, 2020 4:38 PM   Subscribe

A very good friend of mine who lives in NYC has struggled financially for years. I helped bail her out after a brush with homelessness in 2016, and then she won lawsuit that helped keep her afloat for the last 3 years. That money has run out, and she's asking me for financial help again. I can give some short term help, but I'm desperate for some resources to point her to help with this situation. Many details inside.

I've known my friend since 2002. She is a single white woman without a partner, or any living family. For the first 10 years I knew her, she primarily worked administrative temp jobs and pursued her first love of acting. I think she lived close to the bone, and had some housing struggles, but managed to keep herself afloat. After the 2008 financial crisis, temp jobs dried up, but she was able to find a stable admin job working for a vanity non-profit of a wealthy woman. That shut down in 2012, but with a generous severance package. She was able to stretch that along with sporadic temp work until 2016, when it all came crashing down.

She lived in an illegal basement apartment, and when she got behind on rent, her landlord evicted her (illegally of course). My partner and I let her stay with us for a couple of months, but we were in the middle of negotiations with our landlord about a lease buyout, and suddenly they stopped the process, calling her an illegal roommate. None of her other friends could help, so we quickly had to find her someplace else to go. I found a roommate situation with another older woman on the UWS for $1000 a month (including utilities), and paid the deposit and first three months. It was intended to be short term, but that's where she still is today. She won a lawsuit against her landlord (pro-bono legal help), that she's lived off of since 2017, while she's tried to find steady employment.

She has had extreme difficulty finding work. She's applied to a ton of things (admin, call center, etc), but has never found anything permanent. She's had a string of temp jobs, and people seem to like her, but nothing has ever become permanent, although she gets call backs from the same places when they need help. She has some knee and leg problems that means she can't stand up for long periods of time, ruling out retail, food service and the like. I'm sure that ageism has been a major problem... she looks her age (maybe even older), and she is a plain woman, although she does present professionally.

At the end of 2018 she had a health scare where she started falling. It took months to get in with Medicaid, and get it diagnosed, but thankfully it was an easily treatable inner ear thing. But she wasn't able to work at all for a six month period.

So now the lawsuit money has run out. She's got some gigs coming, but had to ask me for help with Feb rent because her roommate is harassing her for it. Her roommate situation has always been a bit strained, and turns out is also illegal... the woman is charging her well more than half the rent on a rent-stabilized lease, and is also getting some sort of rental help that excludes her from getting a roommate. However, I'm not sure there's anyway to leverage this without my friend ending up in a hostile living situation (also the roommate is another older, financially fragile not someone I want to imperil). I have since moved 600 miles away, so can't actually provide temporary housing.

She's been trying to wait until she turns 65 to collect Social Security, but now I realize that she can't get full benefits until 66 and 2 months (she did have 15 years of steady fulltime employment when she was younger, so there should be something there), so she may have to explore that although I don't know how much that might be. However she is 63 now, so it seems like there maybe more resources for her than there was during her first bout of homelessness.

SO MY QUESTION: What sort of resources exist for a 63 yo woman in NYC on the brink of homelessness?

During the last go round, she did a lot of research but other than a pro-bono housing attorney, she didn't find much. She was never even able to get food stamps because there was problem documenting her income because of all the temp jobs. She was able to get on the wait list for subsidized senior housing with SAG/AFTRA, but they kicked her off because her income isn't stable. She doesn't have a lease, which prevents her from getting other types of help. She also has two cats that are her LIFE. She's lived in NYC for the last 40 years, and has no family... moving else where would be a difficulty. I've done some basic Googling, but nothing looks very promising.
posted by kimdog to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
She needs to start by plugging herself into the homelessness prevention system. They will work with people in roommate situations, and any other help she gets will assume that she's already exhausted her options with the city.
posted by 8603 at 4:57 PM on February 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Actors Fund has an emergency support program that may be able to help with some short-term financial assistance and longer-term resources. They have helped me and others I know in the past.
posted by minervous at 5:09 PM on February 23, 2020

My friend Judith compiled a group of booklets on resources in NYC for people in crisis. Going to the Community Art Projects part of her website has the booklets - lot of useful stuff there.
posted by leslies at 5:26 PM on February 23, 2020

She can get a lawyer (MeFi Wiki) on a contingency fee basis to explore both SSI and SSDI.

Also, Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) "were established by the federal Older Americans Act to help Americans aged 60 and older. Local AAAs are the gateway to home and community-based services that help older New Yorkers age in place." Local offices are listed here.

The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC) "manages 35 social service programs, in addition to more than 900 units of housing," and may be able to make referrals to local resources.

The United Way offers community resource specialists 24/7/365 who can help find social services, including food and housing assistance.

Additional resources and related AskMes are listed at the Homeless Survival Guide (MeFi Wiki).
posted by katra at 5:47 PM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's not a short-term solution, but she should be applying for any housing lottery apartments she qualifies for (at Housing Connect). It's free and once she's entered the initial information it takes essentially zero time to apply for new opportunities.
posted by praemunire at 5:56 PM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also, as an UWSer, has she paid a visit to Goddard-Riverside Senior Center? They may be able to refer her to resources, as well as provide what sounds like some badly-needed social interaction. They run some senior housing, too; I imagine it's full, but if it's possible to get on their waiting list, it wouldn't be a bad idea.
posted by praemunire at 7:52 PM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

One Stop Senior Services, Morningside Area Alliance - since 1981, "One Stop has assisted 60,000 Upper West Side seniors with problems widely ranging from hunger and homecare to ensuring proper and timely bill payment." Social services index.

"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the City of New York operates food pantries with our mission being to directly serve our local residents who suffer from hunger and food insecurity within the city. [...] Please contact us for more information on our food pantry program and for days, locations and hours for our food pantries." The Society also runs a women-only homeless shelter.

The West Side Campaign Against Hunger has a food pantry, a 'mobile market' at other sites, and offers social services.

Social services including senior services, food pantry on Monday, "sandwich line" lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at The Franciscan Community Center on W. 97th.

Senior Companion Program, NYC

NYC Council's Resource Guide for Older Adults in NYC: Upper West Side, 70-page .pdf

Food Bank of NYC interactive 'get help/find food' map

OP, it's so kind that you want to help your friend. While you're no longer in the area, do you know of anyone who could temporarily take in the cats? (Or anyone who could even make the offer?) If she could focus on herself in this crisis, rather than having to take the whole family into immediate account, maybe that might offer cognitive space for new approaches.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:36 PM on February 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: She is already eligible for Social Security old-age benefits (most people are eligible at age 62). In general, it's better to wait to claim, because the longer you wait (up to age 70), the higher the monthly benefit . However, if she really needs it now, she should claim now. She can figure out how much she would get by calling SSA or using their online services.

Here's the slightly complicated part: If she starts collecting, she can still work. Any earnings up to about $18,000 will not affect her benefits. But if she has the opportunity to make more, she should: Higher earnings will result in lower Social Security checks immediately, but she will recoup those withholdings after reaching 66 and 2 months.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:01 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, thank you, thank you for this amazing collection of resources. I'm going to go through these and have a short list to share with her when we talk tonight.
posted by kimdog at 8:52 AM on February 24, 2020

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