Study shows housing and food challenges for Bristol seniors

Senior citizens’ needs assessment reveals struggles for some local residents

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 1/10/20

Bristol is starting 2020 with a lot more knowledge about its senior population, thanks to a community needs assessment sponsored by an organizational grant by the Rhode Island Foundation, and …

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Study shows housing and food challenges for Bristol seniors

Senior citizens’ needs assessment reveals struggles for some local residents

Posted

Bristol is starting 2020 with a lot more knowledge about its senior population, thanks to a community needs assessment sponsored by an organizational grant by the Rhode Island Foundation, and commissioned by the Benjamin Church Senior Center.

It’s important information, as the number of seniors in Rhode Island is increasing. By the year 2040, the number of people ages 74 to 84 is expected to increase by 100 percent, and the number of people ages 85 or older will increase by 72 percent.

The results of the assessment are contained in a report which combines demographic research with the results of a 52-question survey conducted by John Mattson Consulting. More than 400 Bristol residents ages 50 and over responded. Researchers also consulted a focus group comprised of 18 seniors and six local leaders in early 2019.

They uncovered a mountain of data about the local senior population, but a handful of numbers stand out.

Notably, 76 percent of Bristolians ages 60 or older report difficulty living independently. This could be due to a number of factors, from housing affordability to mobility or transportation.

In fact, more than half (52 percent) of survey respondents indicated that affordability of living in town is their greatest barrier to living comfortably and safely in Bristol as they age.

While noting that housing for low-income seniors seems to be available, just 20 percent of respondents thought housing was affordable, suggesting a lack of affordable housing for moderate-income seniors not qualifying for available housing. Demographic statistics bear this out, as the housing cost in Bristol County is consistently ranked in the bottom third in affordability, on a national scale.

An estimated 30 percent of Bristolians ages 65 or older have an annual household income below $20,000, with 9 percent below the federal poverty line. Another 29 percent have incomes between $20,000 and $49,999.

One especially troubling finding is that 5.7 of Rhode Islanders ages 60 or older are considered “very low food secure,” which is the highest percentage in the nation. While that statistic is statewide and not necessarily reflective of Bristol, 24 percent of survey respondents do not believe that healthy food is affordable for seniors in local grocery stores, and they report that few local restaurants and stores offer senior discounts.

The study also indicated that many seniors are unaware of existing programming and services, while others were aware of services but had not made use of them, in part due to perceptions that they did not qualify for services.

There’s a wealth of additional information available in this report, which is available online at www.bristolsrctr.com. Armed with this information, Senior Center Director Maria Ursini and her team would like to move forward with a strategic plan for the Senior Center, with planning focused around the priorities uncovered by this assessment.

“Our biggest focus is on funding to move forward with a strategic plan,” said Ms. Ursini.

By the numbers

  • 76% have difficulty living independently
  • 52% say affordability of housing is a problem
  • 30% have income below $20,000
  • 24% think healthy food is not affordable in Bristol

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.