Groups convene to discuss senior housing and transportation issues

“That’s my boyfriend,” said Sally Straus, pointing to a framed photograph. “That’s how he looked when he was young, and that’s a recent picture of the two of us.” When asked if her boyfriend in the picture drives, she responded, “oh, sure!”

Straus drives everywhere, lives alone and is also completely independent.

“I always make a joke: Occasionally, I make a guest appearance in my own home. Usually, I’m out,” she said.

But there are two key issues she’s thinking about for her future. Housing is one of them.

“Sometimes the senior housing is difficult as far as the availability and it’s very possible that some of the seniors will say, ‘I’ve been trying to get into this facility’ or that there’s a long waiting list,” she said.

Her other concern since she lives alone is transportation.

She explained, “Should I get into a situation where driving would be a problem, I will know what’s available to us rather having to impose on friends.”

Over 300 people attended a housing and transportation event hosted by the NJ Senior Council to also find out about what options are available to them.

Karen Alexander is managing director of the New Jersey Travel Independence Program.

“There’s been an increase in life expectancy of 30 years. Basically, in the last century people are living longer, which creates all kinds of opportunities, but also challenges because we know that most people outlive their ability to drive, right now, by seven to 10 years,” she explained.

Alexander says the key is to figure out how to keep people mobile and engaged in the community because those factors are important to a person’s health.

Most days, Straus has breakfast with friends. On Tuesdays, she drives to her go-to bagel shop in the morning, but she looks at people she knows who are no longer able to drive and get to their errands.

“Unfortunately, my family members are no longer here, so I want to be as independent as possible,” she said.

That’s why companies like Lyft had a booth at the event to answer questions from how much rides cost, to how long they would they have to wait to get a car.

Ellen Steinberg, chair of NJ Senior Council said, “Ten years ago, when I spoke to a group, I asked how many people have cell phones and five out of a group of about 80 raised their hands. Now I ask how many people have cell phones, all 80 raise their hands. When I ask how many have smartphones, only five. So it’s only a matter of time.”

But until then there are companies like GoGoGrandparent and EZ Ride who explained they offer an option for people who don’t have smartphones yet. They essentially book rides for people and monitor the drive from beginning to end for safety, a potential option for someone like Sally Straus because right now she says technology isn’t for her.

“Talking to people, networking, I love it. As I always say, as long as it’s not technology, I’m in.” said Straus.

Still, nothing is going to stop her from staying active.