Kupuna should be able to rely on ohana

Patrick Wayne Rita is scared. As anyone would be in the position he faces. Within the next 18 days, the Hanapepe man must find a new home, after learning he had to move from his rental property of the past 10 years. Now, you might think that’s not a big deal. Sure, affordable rentals are hard to come by on Kauai, but they can be found. But when you consider that Rita has numerous physical ailments, lives alone, has limited funds and no immediate place to go, no family members who can take him in, it’s understandable the man is, in his own words Wednesday night in a phone call to The Garden Island, “terrified.”

“My health is deteriorating,” the 62-year-old said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m afraid for the first time in my life.”

And as far as Rita is concerned, what could go wrong, has gone wrong. And it all happened pretty quickly, starting with a notice he had to vacate the property a little more than 60 days ago.

“It’s almost like someone is saying wicked prayers,” he said.

Before most of us dismiss Rita’s situation as unusual and nothing we’ll ever have to worry about, please note that he is not alone and many seniors in the past, today and in the future, have been in or will be in his situation. Sadly, in this country, our kupuna are often dismissed as no longer important, when they should be treasured and respected. According to The Data Center on Hawaii’s Aging, over 11,000 Kauai residents are 60 and older: 16 percent live alone, 37 percent have some kind of disability and 7 percent live below the poverty line.

And consider, for a moment, this information according to this 2014 report by talkpovery.org:

“A total of 6.4 million people age 65 and over (15 percent of all people 65 and over) are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Supplemental Poverty Measure. That’s 6.4 million of our mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, and grandfathers who struggle daily to afford food and rent, to access needed health care and long-term services and supports, to remain connected to their families and their communities.

“As has been widely reported, the demographics of our country are changing. Every day 10,000 people in America turn 65. By 2030 there will be 72 million seniors living in America. If the current poverty rate of 15 percent among this group holds, there will be more than 11 million seniors living in poverty just 16 years from now.”

So it’s clear that not every senior has a full pension plan, 401(k), multiple sources of retirement income, a home that’s paid for, a vacation home and lives a life of relaxation and ease after retiring at age 65. In fact, many seniors are finding they must continue working long after they hoped to retire, just to keep up with their basic bills and keep food on the table.

What has happened to Rita, who receives a monthly Social Security check of roughly $1,500, can happen to anyone. The reasons are many: Investments go bad, the housing market takes a dive, the stock market crashes, too much debt, not enough savings, an accident or illness that leads to soaring medical expenses, or the victim of one of the many scams that target vulnerable seniors. Plenty of dedicated people have worked hard through their lives, sacrificed much for their children, saved where they could, but struggle to survive in their retirement years.

There are options for people in Rita’s situation. Kauai County’s Agency on Elderly Affairs, Kauai Economic Opportunity and Catholic Charities are a few organizations that offer assistance to the low-income. But an invaluable resource is family and friends. Kauai is one place that is known for looking after each other, especially our elderly. Such a friend, Charles Ferguson, showed up at Rita’s home the day after The Garden Island’s initial story about his situation was published Tuesday. He could have just read the story and returned to his daily business. He didn’t. He and others helped Rita clean, organize and prepare for his move. We applaud Ferguson for stepping up to assist an elderly friend in need. Imagine if we all found the time to assist others when they needed us. Imagine the difference it could make in their lives. Just ask Patrick Wayne Rita what it meant when Ferguson pulled up in his driveway.

Plan for the future, absolutely. Do your best to be financially secure in your golden years. But realize, too, things don’t always work out. Trouble can show up when it is not expected. It is then our kupuna will need the love and friendship of ohana. And such love, we all know, is priceless.

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