BEND, OR -- Bend’s only emergency homeless shelter is forced to take a hard look at the future, as its population ages. Chris Clouart with the Bethlehem Inn says economic conditions have forced many baby boomers out of their jobs and, in turn, their homes. "We’re actually thinking in terms of having to plan a new Bethlehem Inn in the future, architecturally. And, we’re starting to ask ourselves questions about whether we need a geriatric unit here," Clouart tells KBND. "What we’re seeing is an aging of the homeless population. An aging of the population in general, that are now becoming homeless because they no longer have any place in the economy. And, that scares us."
The Affordable Care Act has also had unintended consequences for the shelter. Clouart says many residents now have health insurance and are able to undergo necessary surgeries, like knee replacements. "Prior to this, people were just not dealing with these issues – they were working through them or they were just not able to work. Now, they’re suddenly able to get these things taken care of, which is all for the good because they will become a contributing member of society again. But, they often don’t have the resources to be able to support themselves during a period of convalescence."
He says insurance may cover the procedure, but often not follow-up recovery care. "Because of this wave of older people, who are having some pretty serious medical conditions that are being taken care of, we’re finding ourselves in a position of being the place of last resort. And, that’s surprisingly where we find ourselves in the Spring of 2015, is we have a lot of people here, who are just not what we would have seen five years ago."
Clouart says it’s becoming more common for the shelter to receive a call from the hospital, asking for a handicap accessible bed for a patient whose insurance has denied convalescent care. In the past, he says family was often able to step in and help, but many of those families are also struggling to make ends meet. He says they try not to turn anyone away, but they don't have enough handicap accessible beds to accommodate everyone.