No place to live

Failing health, crumbling incomes, and rising home costs are forcing thousands of older adults nationally into homelessness, a dilemma that includes the Puget Sound region.

According to researchers, a full and comfortable retirement is no longer realistic for millions of aging seniors. Many face the double conundrum of needing to work beyond typical retirement age to make ends meet, while health and age-related issues make it difficult to get jobs with employers who shy away from older workers. Those factors, coupled with others like cost of living, can put older adults on the streets.

The number of homeless seniors across the U.S. jumped nearly 70 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to researchers. During that period, the problem in Washington was highlighted in a 2016 survey that found 22 percent of people in King County who were experiencing homelessness were over the age of 50. Also, nearly a third of the clients in homeless shelters funded by United Way of King County were older than 55, according to the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County.

The total number of homeless people in King County was nearly 12,000 as recent as 2020, according to studies by the county and the city of Seattle.

In Pierce County, the annual Homeless Point-In-Time Count (conducted each January) has county-organized volunteers seek out individuals and ask them about their situations. In 2021, of the 1,005 homeless people who were contacted, 162 (25 percent) were 55 or older. Only those living in shelters were contacted due to safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, when unsheltered and sheltered alike were counted, 261 were 55 to 61 years old and 167 were 62 and up—a combined 23 percent of the 1,817 total.

Results from the 2022 count, scheduled for Jan. 27-28, weren’t available when Senior Scene went to press.

The state Department of Commerce, in a report posted on its website in August 2020, related a non-profit organization’s experiences dealing with homeless seniors in Olympia. “Very regularly we meet seniors in their 70s and 80s who are newly homeless and come to our doorstep with no idea about what to do or where to go for help,” said Meg Martin, director of Interfaith Works. She said they often have chronic health conditions, “mobility challenges,” and cognitive issues “related to memory or tracking dates and times.”

As housing prices climb, “seniors living on a fixed income will continue to face immense risk and housing instability. Further, once they do fall into crisis and homelessness, the system overall is underequipped to support them in the ways they need,” Martin said.

King County’s senior centers are trying to help. For example, Enumclaw Senior Center has steered them toward medical or mental health services, clothing donations, and places to take a warm shower—the latter through “shower coupons” that the center purchased from a local swimming pool.

On the subject of negative impacts of housing issues on health and welfare, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s director of health, Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, wrote recently that helping people “find housing they can afford is a policy priority. We encourage elected officials and communities to support more choices for housing in our region” through “community-level actions.”

On a statewide level, Governor Jay Inslee is asking the Legislature to bolster Washington’s efforts—with a large pricetag–in finding solutions for homelessness. He has proposed an $800 million investment to pursue new ways to help people remain in their homes (in the case of rentals, by expanding assistance for tenants t pay past-due utility bills and avoid), build 1,500 supportive and affordable housing units and increase support services for people with behavioral health needs, and transition homeless people to permanent housing.

“Unsheltered Washingtonians deserve a safe, warm and dry place to live, with additional resources available if they need them. This is not only the right thing to do for these people, but the right thing to do for our state and our communities,” Inslee said.

Some of the nation’s major cities are facing their own issues. Researchers predict the number of homeless seniors in New York City (more than 17,000 in 2017) will be about 25,000 in 2030; and in Los Angeles, the 14,000-plus seniors on the streets in 2020 is expected to reach 30,000 10 years from  now.

Communities need to lead potential solutions to the problem of senior homelessness, said Nick Saifan, chief executive officer of Vendaval Corp., a Los Angeles, Calif.-area company that is developing affordable housing for older adults and veterans.

“The government can’t do everything,” Saifan said. “We have to start thinking about these issues as a community. More private entities are needed to take the lead on behalf of these seniors. We all need to think beyond ourselves and focus on helping elders enjoy their golden years.”

He noted more seniors have chosen to age in place, meaning they’re holding onto their single-family residences longer than previous generations. But that option may not be possible for all seniors, especially those who need extra help or who rent their homes. Seniors who live on fixed incomes are vulnerable to rent increases.

A partnership of communities, advocates, homebuilders and government “may be the best way to create a better future” through possible options such as fixed-rent controls, the conversion of large shipping containers into housing, and access to vacant land and empty buildings controlled by state and local government, Saifan said.


Homeless people are older adults more often than the public might realize.
Getting ready for the big shake and what comes after

While no one wants to dwell on worst-case scenarios, the pandemic has in many ways illustrated there are no certainties in life. Preparing for potential emergency scenarios caused by a natural disaster—a major earthquake, for example–can provide peace of mind now and safety in the future.

On a Saturday in September last year, Seattle’s Jefferson Park was the scene of white tents and tables that were set up near soccer fields for a drill by Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs Network, a neighborhood-level disaster response community group. The network of hubs throughout the city was created after the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake in 2001 that felled buildings and contributed to at least one death and hundreds of injuries. Seattleites realized the city’s few-hundred emergency-responders can’t tend to everyone in a crisis, and that citywide communications failures are possible. Residents may organize with their immediate neighbors, but entire neighborhoods would need to set up centralized areas where people can trade information and resources.

For about the past six years, the hubs have hosted an annual field exercise that simulates the aftermath of a major earthquake. The goal is to streamline how each would assist people after a disaster left all communications down. Last September, volunteer drill participants ping ponged between stations where they pretended to offer spare supplies, seek out medical help, share updates on emergency management operations, and send messages to or from authorities via ham radio operators.

A major earthquake along the Seattle Fault would result in building collapses and large fires that cause mass casualties — the kind emergency services would prioritize. What the hubs practice for is, mostly, how to help everyone else.

“When the earth shakes, your neighbor is going to be your first-responder,” said Kate Hutton, communications coordinator for city government’s Office of Emergency Management.

Cindi Barker, co-founder of the neighborhood hubs network, said she prays the Seattle Fault earthquake—the “big one” that’s often referred to by experts as inevitable–won’t happen in her lifetime, but practicing for it is worthwhile. She said the work makes neighborhoods stronger for a disaster and as communities.

“What I’m saying is, get to know your neighbors,” Barker said. “Think of who you can help. Plug back in with the people around you, and there will be a stronger community no matter what.”

The Northwest had one of its periodic wakeup calls late last year when 10 earthquakes off the coast were recorded in one day (Dec. 7).  The strongest was a magnitude 5.8. The quakes occurred along a known fault line but were too far from land to be felt or cause any damage. No tsunamis were reported, either. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network described the flurry of earthquakes as nothing unusual for that region. But they were one of the Northwest’s periodic wakeup calls about the potential for the earth to move around.

To get prepped for the worst, officials say, start with the essentials. With sufficient fuel, water, food and other necessities, you can ride out potential emergency scenarios more easily. Here’s how to collect and store these items safely and securely:


The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends storing at least one gallon of water per person per day for 14 days for drinking and sanitation, in case water supplies are disrupted.

For long-term storage, standard plastic bottles aren’t ideal. They degrade over time, compromising water quality and safety. So take a cue from the military. Standard issue to U.S. and Canadian armed forces, and now available to civilian consumers, Scepter Military Water Cans hold five gallons and are made from rugged, high-density polyethylene. They keep chemicals, odors and tastes out of water, and are corrosion and fungus-resistant. Millions of these containers have been used around the world by the U.S. military.


Homeowners should have a fresh supply of gasoline, diesel and kerosene for generators, chainsaws and other tools during and after emergencies. Fuel containers should be stored in secure, dry locations away from heat sources, pets and children.


The CDC recommends at least a three-day supply of food items with a very long shelf life that don’t require refrigeration or cooking. They should also meet the dietary needs of all household members. Periodically check your supply to ensure expiration dates haven’t passed. To avoid spoilage and odors, store food in airtight containers away from petroleum products and heat.

Other important essentials should also be in your emergency kit, such as batteries, flashlights, first-aid supplies, and prescription medications.

More information about emergency preparations is at,, Pierce County Emergency Management at, and King County Emergency Management at


Sources:, a Pacific Northwest news site and service of Cascade Public Media, and StatePoint Media.

A volunteer posts updated, pseudo-information during a simulation in Seattle last year of community-based responses to a major earthquake.
Dogs, cats, and the people who love them

The symbiotic relationship between pets and pet owners provides benefits beyond cozy companionship. As a matter of fact, scientific research demonstrates a link between human-animal interaction and healthy aging—even as far as being something a doctor would order.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) studied the power of animal connections and found that engaging with pets can provide physical and mental health–so much so that 74 percent of doctors surveyed said that, if they could, they would prescribe a pet to improve the overall health of their patients.

Owning, interacting with and caring for a pet contributes to good health in a number of ways. A University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed a national sample of adults 50 to 80 years old. The pet owners reported their furry pals help them enjoy life (88 percent), make them feel loved (86 percent), reduce stress (79 percent), provide a sense of purpose (73 percent), help them stick to a routine (62 percent), connect them with other people (65 percent), help them be physically active (64 percent overall and 78 percent among dog owners), help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms (60 percent overall and 72 percent among those who lived alone and/or reported fair or poor physical health), and take their mind off pain (34 percent).

“Get a pet” belongs on a list of things that people should do to maintain their health and support healthy aging, said HABRI president Steven Feldman.

“When health insurance providers are looking at wellness incentives and keeping costs down, pet ownership provides another way for older adults to stay healthy and save money,” he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) backs up that viewpoint, noting that pet owners have more opportunities to exercise, be outdoors and socialize by walking or playing with pets, while decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The companionship of pets can also help fend off loneliness and depression.

“Having that sense of responsibility can help people avoid things like isolation, which can lead to inactivity and unhealthy lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Abhimanyu Uberoi, a cardiologist for Kaiser Permanente. “It’s a mixed bag of benefits. You feel psychologically and physically better because you’re exercising, you feel a sense of duty because you have this pet that loves you unequivocally, and that can release positive hormones in the brain.”

But the fact that most households have at least one pet isn’t necessarily always a good thing, according to the CDC. The agency notes that pets can make people sick. Children younger than 5 years old, anyone with weakened immune systems, and people 65 and older are more likely to get diseases spread between animals and people (also known as zoonotic diseases). Pregnant women are also at a higher risk for certain animal-related diseases.

To have the right kind of pet, keep in mind:

  • Households with kids younger than 5 shouldn’t have reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes), amphibians (frogs, toads), or backyard poultry because of the risk of serious illness from germs spread by the animals.
  • People with weakened immune systems should ask for a veterinarian’s advice for picking the best pet.
  • Pregnant women should avoid adopting a new cat or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause birth defects in humans. Women don’t have to give up a household cat after getting pregnant, but they should avoid handling cat litter. They should also avoid pet rodents to prevent exposure to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, another cause of birth defects.


HEARD A LOT IN KING COUNTY: “Here, Bella! Here, Lucy!”

If you’re a pet owner in King County, chances are you have a Bella, Lucy or Luna around the house. Those are the three most popular names for dogs or cats that are licensed by the county.

Regional Animal Services of King County has a list of 2021’s top names for the 66,279 dogs and 27,020 cats that were on the license rolls. Bella is the most frequent dog name. Cats answer most often to Luna. And the second most-popular moniker for dogs and cats is Lucy.

The full top-10 lists are:

  • For dogs, Bella, Lucy, Max, Charlie, Buddy, Daisy, Luna, Bailey, Cooper, and Molly.
  • For cats, Luna, Lucy, Bella, Max, Shadow, Charlie, Kitty, Jack, Lily, and Oliver.

Note that five of the names–Bella, Lucy, Luna, Max, Charlie—cross the line between dog lovers and cat lovers by being on each list.

King County pet names apparently are in step with the rest of the U.S. People magazine, citing various sources, says the top names nationally for dogs are  Bella, Luna, Lucy, Daisy, Zoe, Lily, Lola, Bailey, Stella, Molly, Max, Charlie, Milo, Buddy, Rocky, Bear, Leo, Duke, Teddy, and Tucker; and the cat names of most frequent choice are Luna, Bella, Lily, Lucy, Nala, Kitty, Chloe, Stella, Zoe, Lola, Oliver, Leo, Milo, Charlie, Max, Simba, Jack, Loki, Ollie, and Jasper.

Besides (and more important than) playing the name game, licensing of pets in King County helps reunite lost animals with their owners. The finder of a wandering pet can call the phone number on its tag 24 hours a day, seven days a week to have it picked up and taken to an animal shelter. A pet that’s lost and picked up for the first time can even get a free ride home, said Gene Mueller, a veterinarian who manages the county’s animal services.

In addition to helping pay for handling lost pets and injured animals, pet license fees support animal neglect and cruelty investigations, spay and neuter programs, and pet adoptions.

License purchases and other information is available at and, in Pierce County, from the county auditor at

The camaraderie that people have with their pets extends to human interactions via places like off-leash dog parks, including one at Mountlake Terrace in King County.


FAMOUS CANINES OF THE NORTHWEST, a non-profit news site that is a service of Cascade Public Media, recently delved into dog lore of the Pacific Northwest, sharing accounts of legendary canines that starred in movies, accompanied epic historical explorations, and were used by Native tribes for making blankets.

  • Lassie was a sensation — a great movie star — who debuted in the 1943 MGM picture “Lassie Come Home,” starring Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor. Both were upstaged by a lovely rough collie named Lassie. The action in that first film took place in Scotland, but parts were actually filmed in the remote Stehekin Valley on Lake Chelan, landscape Lassie traversed to find her way home after being sold. Rainbow Falls was one of those stand-ins for a “Scottish” location.

While the scenes were brief, they inspired MGM to return to feature more of the incredible Chelan landscape in Technicolor. A sequel, “Courage of Lassie,” again starring Elizabeth Taylor, was filmed near Stehekin during World War II, in the fall of 1944.

  • A dog hero that arrived with explorers was Seaman, a Newfoundland who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition from Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River and back in the early 1800s. Seaman belonged to Capt. Meriwether Lewis and is the only animal expedition member to make the entire trip out and back.

The trip wasn’t easy for dogs or humans. Seaman was reportedly made miserable by clouds of mosquitoes, was bitten by a beaver and required surgery, and was even briefly appropriated by some Native admirers. And he avoided being eaten. The expedition members were said to have eaten over 200 dogs on their journey, taking protein where they could find it when game was scarce. Only explorer William Clark abstained.

  • The Makah and Coast Salish peoples kept two distinct types of dogs in their communities. One was the so-called “village” dog —with short, brown hair and resembling a coyote. The other was a smaller, long-haired pooch known as the “wool” or “woolly dog,” bred for its beautiful thick, white hair. The two types of dog were kept apart to prevent interbreeding.

The woolly dog produced a prodigious coat and was annually sheared in the spring, just as sheep were. The dogs’ white hair was used to weave Salish blankets — high-prestige items that were also made from the hair of rare mountain goats. At the time of early European contact, explorers noted the thickness of the woolly dog’s fleece. George Vancouver wrote that the dogs resembled Pomeranians, but a bit larger. Early explorers were stunned by the quality of dog yarn.


Get serious about laughing

If you’re feeling conflicted about stepping back into the “business as usual” rat race, you’re not alone. The stress and isolation of a global pandemic and social upheaval have led us to rethink our values and consider a reset. What do we do now? If you ask me, it’s time to dedicate ourselves to a very important pursuit: Having fun.

Fun is serious business. In fact, we need it to be healthy. When we do things that bring us joy, our brains are flooded by chemicals that trigger good feelings. These chemicals are neurotransmitters called endorphins, and they act as painkillers and happiness producers. Childhood is a time of free flowing endorphins because kids are great at doing things that feel good, just for the pleasure of it. Adults? Not so much.

Twenty years ago, I found myself trapped on a treadmill with no end in sight. I was smack in the middle of a lucrative career as a lawyer –– following in the footsteps of my father and his father –– and I was completely miserable. Like so many of my colleagues, I was staring down the barrel of alcoholism and depression. I knew I had to do something, but what? I decided to start by giving up booze for 30 days, and that proved to be the single most important choice of my life.

When I stopped drinking, it was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I was thinking more clearly and I just felt good. Those neurotransmitters were firing and my judgement was sharper than it had been in years. I started moving my body just for the love of movement. I went on hikes, found a trainer, found myself and found joy again. Today, I can be found sailing around the Caribbean and writing novels. I do what feels good. I have fun!

Want to jump-start the fun? Start in the morning.

When you wake up, do you reach for your phone and scroll through social media feeds dotted with the glamorous achievements of your friends and colleagues? If you’re bummed out looking at the fancy houses, new cars, and uber-organized meal prep hacks your buddies are posting, then stop it. I mean it –– stop wasting that precious time making yourself feel bad. Pick a morning activity that really gets you going. Get up a few minutes earlier and drink your coffee or tea outside (or by a window), do some light stretching, meditating–it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is the way it makes you feel.

Unlock your passions. Think about how you can squeeze in some time every day to nurture an activity you’re passionate about. It’s tempting to let work, family, and responsibilities make you put those “non-essential” hobbies on the back burner, right? The problem with that is, you’re denying yourself a basic need. Take 45 minutes and go on the walk, finish the chapter, or pull on the gardening gloves. Just do it, no matter what.


Get serious about laughing.

Pencil in time to laugh. I mean it. When you’ve channeled yourself to something that you’re passionate about, laughter comes easy. And laughter is contagious, so everyone around you starts to laugh more. Good, deep belly-laughing activates the endorphins, much like a good deep-tissue massage. Laughing is your body’s built-in stress-relief mechanism. Find what tickles your funny bone and boost your wellness.


Set a goal outside of your comfort zone

You do the same thing day in and day out until it feels like something has to give. This is your spirit’s way of telling you it’s time to have some fun. The best cure for the blahs is something that excites you and gives you a challenge. Now is the time to sign up for your first marathon, or take a flying lesson. Do something that shakes up the status quo and makes you nervous, in a good way.

If you’re seriously thinking about fun, it’s safe to say you’re probably not having enough of it. It’s as simple as this: When you do things that make you feel good, you feel good. When you feel good, you raise your vibration, and that creates energy. You know what energy brings? Motivation, health, and freedom, for starters. When you’re tuned in to your inner kid and living with joy, you’re free.


Howard T. Scott, who wrote this article, is the author of the murder-suspense novel “Rascal on the Run” and

Showing off classic cars, like these folks did in the Kent Winterfest Parade Dec. 4, is the kind of personal passion that can give people reasons to feel good, laugh, and simply enjoy life.

a lawyer whose legal career has included work as a criminal defense attorney.