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Many Seniors Face Financial Crises as Debts Mount

A recent article in the New York Times confirmed our anecdotal experience here at Contra Costa Senior Legal Services: older adults are struggling with debt.  The article, ‘Too Little Too Late’: Bankruptcy Booms Among Older Americans, outlines in bleak terms the fate of many older adults due to conditions often beyond their control—vanishing pensions, high medical costs and lack of savings.  The rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy has tripled from the 1991 rate.

This phenomenon is a result of policy choices that have negatively impacted seniors.  These include: longer waits for Social Security benefits, the replacement of pensions provided by employers with 401(k) savings plans funded by individuals, and higher out-of-pocket costs for health care.  The NYT article is based on a study from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, where one of the authors observes: “When the costs of aging are off-loaded onto a population that simply does not have access to adequate resources, something has to give.”  While bankruptcy offers a fresh start for many, for older adults, the study finds, its protections are “too little, too late.”  By the time they file, they have lost their wealth and do not have enough time to recover.

In addition to higher debt compared to generations past, older adults today are nearly twice as likely to be paying for a mortgage.  About 41% of seniors today have a mortgage versus 21% in 1989.  Many of the participants in the study reported that helping other family members, such as co-signing for a child’s student loan, contributed to their need to file for bankruptcy protection.

Here at CCSLS, nearly 1 in 10 of our clients seek help with debt issues.  Another 24% contact us about help with evictions, which often result from the inability to pay rent.  Clearly, seniors in Contra Costa are feeling the effects of the loss of the safety net.  What can we do as individuals to reverse this trend?  Make your voice heard and vote for policies that protect our healthcare and Social Security.  If you are a senior and have questions about your rights as a debtor, check out our resources page, or contact CCSLS and schedule an appointment.

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New Restorative Justice Opportunities for Contra Costa Families

On July 18, 2018, we attended the quarterly meeting for the Family Justice Alliance, a partnership that manages the Family Justice Centers in Richmond and in Concord.  CCSLS has been a partner of the Family Justice Alliance for many years, and currently we are in an active partnership to combat elder abuse.  At the meeting, we learned about some new programs available to Contra Costa residents, including efforts to bring restorative justice to families in Contra Costa.

Restorative justice is a method of addressing harm or crime, which involves the community coming together to solve the issue and address the harm.  Drawing upon indigenous cultures that foster close-knit communities, restorative justice has resurfaced in Western countries as an alternative to the criminal justice system that has been developed to punish offenders.

Often, the process of restorative justice involves “circles,” in which the person who was harmed, the person who did the harm, and the community members for both people, come together and sit in circle to discuss the issue.  Circles are typically led by a circle leader, and everyone in the circle is given a chance to speak.  Restorative justice first emphasizes the agency of the person who was harmed and giving them an opportunity to voice how the harm affected them.  Second, restorative justice stresses that the person who committed the harm must take responsibility for the harm, while acknowledging their personhood and feelings.  Restorative justice has been proven very effective in schools as an alternative to traditional methods of punishment, including here in Contra Costa.

While the criminal and civil justice system offers important safeguards for victims, restorative justice can offer an alternative to the current legal offerings.  In our work at CCSLS, we provide assistance to seniors who have been abused.  Most often, family members and those close to the senior are committing the abuse.  While often times seniors choose to use the restraining order process to protect themselves, many seniors want a different way of handling their cases, especially when separation from the person harming them is not viable for personal or financial reasons.  Because restorative justice pulls in other people who support the senior and the person causing harm, there may be opportunities for healing broken relationships among family members through that process.

The Family Justice Center’s new program will be offered as an option for individuals who have experienced family violence, including domestic violence and elder abuse.  For more information, call the West Family Justice Center at (510) 974-7200.

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Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness

June 2018 is Elder Abuse Awareness Month.

Wear purple to support elder abuse awareness!

How big of an issue is elder abuse in California?

Here in California, Adult Protective Services (APS) receives more than 15,000 reports of elder and dependent adult abuse per month, and reports are increasing.

There are an estimated 184,500 cases of reported elder and dependent adult abuse PER YEAR in California. Elder abuse is significantly underreported. For every case known to programs and agencies, 24 are unknown. For financial abuse, only one in 44 cases is known.

Help the California Association of Area Agencies of Aging and partners around the state to raise awareness about elder and dependent adult abuse. Learn about the different types of abuse, how to recognize them and how to report abuse to the appropriate local agencies.

To report abuse, call Adult Protective Services at (877) 839-4347. For long-term care residents, call the Ombudsman at (925) 685-2070.

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Contact Us

2702 Clayton Rd.
Suite 202

Concord, CA 94519
(925) 609-7900

Our Mission

The mission of CCSLS is to protect the rights of seniors. By providing legal services, the organization is also able to mediate poverty and improve health outcomes for the population it serves. Lawyers are uniquely qualified to help identify and address legal issues that impede the ability of seniors to remain healthy and independent.