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'No idea where we're going.' Provincetown pair faces homelessness as summer season begins

Zane Razzaq

May 30, 2023

Pammy Nickerson, 52, and her boyfriend, Juan Carlos, 61, have lived at the Eastwood at Provincetown timeshare since November, but their future is uncertain.

The complex is filling up for the season and will cost $1,600 weekly starting Memorial Day weekend, said Nickerson, which is more than what they can pay.

Saturday was their last day there.

"We have no backup plan at all. We're going to literally end up outdoors," said Nickerson on May 22 at the timeshare. "That's my biggest fear: ending up under a bridge somewhere or on the side of the road."

Nickerson and Carlos are part of a growing trend of Americans 50 and older struggling with homelessness. Among single homeless adults, about half are 50 and older, according to the American Society on Aging, with nearly half of them becoming homeless after 50.

On Cape Cod, the graying of the homeless population poses urgent challenges, as 32% of Barnstable County is 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nickerson and Carlos' story

Nickerson, who has lived in town since she was four days old, says her nightmare began when following her grandfather's death in 2015 she inherited his Provincetown house where she grew up. But she also became the heir to his reverse mortgage — just under $500,000, which she could not afford.

She said she fought to keep the house for four and a half years, but ultimately lost.

"And it's been hell ever since," said Nickerson.

She was evicted in January 2020. A moving company from New Bedford packed up her belongings and took most of her stuff there. She's paying about $400 a month between two companies to house some of her stuff.

Nickerson also said she feels red tape, stifling bylaws, and failing to meet requirements has also been a barrier, as she has contacted a long list of housing agencies and organizations. She has a short rental history with few references, bad credit, and low income, she said, as well as Crohn's disease.

She also does not want to be separated from her four rescue cats — a big gray cat named Blakely, Felix the gray tiger, and two Maine coon sisters named Sabrina and Lily. They are staying in an animal shelter until she can reunite with them in a permanent home.

"They've been my support system. They've been my lifeline," said Nickerson.

Nickerson and Carlos have bounced around over the past couple years, including in a metal tool shed in her cousin's backyard. The house was in rough shape, she said, with no running water and was later sold.

They are up each morning at 5:30 a.m. and work as much as they can — Nickerson cleaning houses and Carlos doing yard and house work.

"What's left of us, we fall asleep," said Nickerson.

It's depressing, she said.

"Everybody wants to talk about their trip, what they buy. Well, we can't talk about it and we're not feeling to be social," said Carlos. "We just want to keep it to ourselves."

Cape Cod problem

The annual "point-in-time" count of homeless conducted this year by the Cape and Islands Regional Network on Homelessness also showed older people making up a significant portion of the homeless.

Thirty-one percent of the unsheltered — which means people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, on the street, and in cars — were between 50 and 64, and nearly 10% were over the age of 65.

And local organizations are also seeing the crisis.

In 2022, Homeless Prevention Council served 2,360 people, with 610 or just over a quarter of them being seniors. The nonprofit will host a senior housing information session about future housing options at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 22 at Truro Council on Aging, 7 Standish Way. The event is free and open to residents from all towns.

Often, staff will hear from a senior who has unexpectedly lost their longtime rental after a landlord decides to sell, said CEO Hadley Luddy.

One Homeless Prevention Council client was forced to retire due to health issues and was living off Social Security and a small retirement. She dipped into her retirement to make rent and eventually wound up with no resources and is now living on a friend's sofa while waiting for senior housing, which Luddy said could take years.

"So, what we've been seeing sadly is people calling us and saying, 'You know, I've been in my rental for 15 to 20 years and it's being sold. Where can I go?'" said Luddy. "And the sad answer is that there really is nowhere to go."

'All of a sudden they're uprooted'

Older women are among the more financially vulnerable, along with people of color and "the oldest old," said Jan Mutchler, a professor of gerontology and director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging in the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Part of that is demographics: women live longer than men, meaning women are more likely to outlive their husbands or partners and to be living alone. Cost of living and rents have skyrocketed in Massachusetts over the past few years, she added, saying many older people rent.

Rent is far and away the biggest expense," said Mutchler.

Protecting and strengthening Social Security is key, she said, with many older people relying on that for a large portion of income. Making it easier to save for retirement and creating ways for older people who can work and want to work to continue working later in life will also help, she said.

f a senior is facing uncertainty with their housing, Luddy encouraged reaching out as soon as possible "to see how we can help them prevent any of these stressful, difficult situations by starting to put a plan in place now around their future housing needs."

"It's very traumatic to face homelessness as you're aging and wanting to be at an age in life where you have fewer worries than more," said Luddy. "Especially the folks that felt like they had a plan, stably housed, and all of a sudden they're uprooted."

Nickerson said she had "no idea where we're going."

"I'm really frightened about what's going to happen," said Nickerson.


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