St. Mary’s Center in West Oakland helps some of the 71,000 seniors in Alameda County who do not have enough money to meet their basic needs; that is half of the people in Alameda County who are 65 and over. But the center is just one node in the complex and incomplete web of aid for seniors who do not have enough money to live on. “Forget the issue of any kind of dementia, long-term chronic mental health issues, substance abuse issues—just be homeless and experience the trauma of that and then figure this out,” said Carol Johnson, the director of St. Mary’s.

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When James Smith was released on parole in 2007, the Department of Corrections gave him $200 and pointed him out the door—he had no support, nowhere to go, nothing but the clothes on his back. It had been years since he had been on the outside. In a matter of months, Smith was asking his parole officer whether he could be sent back to prison rather than finish parole. Without a job, life outside proved to be difficult—too uncertain. “I couldn’t find a job,” said the 45-year-old Oakland native. “It’s like being a pariah.”

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