February is recognized as National Senior Independence Month, a time when older adults, community members and organizations can collaborate and share resources to help all of us – no matter the age – live independent and fulfilling lives. 

However, many older adults face a variety of obstacles and barriers to maintaining their desired independence, especially in a city such as San Antonio. One group currently proving aid to the Alamo City’s elderly is Successfully Aging and Living in San Antonio (SALSA)

Created by the San Antonio Area Foundation in 2016, SALSA’s goals are to increase leadership, collaboration and funding so that older adults have access to services, information, and other support systems.

“The population of older adults in San Antonio is growing,” said Jo Ann Tobias-Molina, SALSA Program Coordinator. “We realized that by 2034, there will be more older adults than younger adults for the first time in the history of this country.”

According to the 2020 census, the population of older adults in Bexar County rose from 13 percent to nearly 17 percent. Data collected by SALSA showed that people over 65 currently make up roughly 12 percent of the population in our region. The majority are Hispanic and are less likely to speak only English at home compared to their counterparts across the state. 

This population is also less likely to own their own home compared to the rest of the state, are less likely to own their own mode of transportation and are even less likely to call for transportation assistance via 211.

“On the positive side, [older adults in San Antonio] have some amazing nonprofits and government agencies that are trying to solve this problem,” explained Laura Keyes, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas, who is consulting with SALSA. 

“Compared to other regions, San Antonio is in such a unique position to come up with feasible solutions. The challenge lies in the fact that … we have a large growth in that target population and we have increased needs to travel, but decreased ability to do so independently,” Keyes noted.

Language, education and awareness to resource barriers are in the way, coupled with a lack of mass public transportation options in one of the least walkable major cities in the nation. This leaves a wide swath of the population often unable to leave their homes, unable to make crucial doctor appointments, get their needed prescriptions, interact with friends and family and possibly even do simple tasks like buying groceries. 

Ride Connect Texas, a nonprofit organization and SALSA member, is looking to alleviate these issues by developing and expanding the current senior mobility management system with a One Call One Click initiative that will serve the entire San Antonio region. The goal is to streamline existing systems and remove many of the in-place barriers older adults currently face.

Focus group discussions on transportation needs for older adults in our region.

“We’re very excited about this transportation study that we have working with the University of North Texas and our partners at Ride Connect,” Tobias-Molina said.

“We’re having a survey, that is happening now, and we will have focus groups … to gather directly the feedback from older citizens on their transportation and their needs. We hope to be able to move forward and transition into the One Call One Click system,” she added.

Several One Call One Click systems are in place across the country, including in Atlanta where Keyes was instrumental in its development. The system allows for one centralized number and one web-based tool linking older adults to transportation and human service agencies and allows booking and payment in one location. 

“Right now, there’s a will, but sort of a lack of system infrastructure to keep up with the growing demand that San Antonio’s senior citizens have,” Keyes explained. 

“Which is what [everyone] is trying to solve with this project. The fact that groups like SALSA exist is so unique,” Keyes continued. “There are only a handful of cities that I know have organizations like this and that form of collaboration is already an essential factor in addressing the needs of our senior citizens.” 

Interested in getting involved by participating in the survey? Click here for more details.

Eric Moreno is a contributor to the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing & Communications Storytelling Ambassador network.