Anthony Yuknevich was barefoot, with his silver hair covered by a knit cap, as he greeted guests in his new home: a modest one-bedroom apartment at Las Lomas, the new Next Move Sacramento housing complex for people who are aging and chronically homeless.
Yuknevich, a 92-year-old former crewman in the Merchant Marine, was the complex's first resident. When he came to the attention of Next Move managers, he was a longtime resident of Sacramento's Union Gospel Mission.
Even now, despite being homeless for years, he's too proud to like the sound of the word "homeless."
"I wouldn't say I was on the streets," he said. "Streets makes it sound so bad."
The small Las Lomas complex is Sacramento County's first HUD-funded permanent supportive housing program for chronically homeless, disabled people who are 55 and older. Located in a neighborhood off Stockton Boulevard, across the street from Next Move's family shelter, it has room for 22 older adults and provides supportive services such as senior nutrition assistance and Paratransit.
With the seniors housing program, Next Move the nonprofit formerly called the Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center is attempting to address the growing need of elder homelessness.
According to the 2013 homeless count, more than 2,500 people are homeless in Sacramento County, up 7.6 percent over the 2011 figure, and the number of chronically homeless has increased by 22.4 percent over the same period.
An alarming number of the homeless, both here and across the country, are older adults. Some are caught in bad circumstances, victims of a temporary bout of poor luck. Others are battered and prematurely aged by years on the streets.
And experts say their numbers are expected to soar: The National Alliance to End Homelessness projects the number of homeless seniors will grow by 33 percent by the end of the decade, and double by 2050.
"I had an older woman come to our administrative offices," said Carolyn Brodt, Next Move's executive director. "She'd taken care of her mother, who passed away, and she had nowhere to go and no money.
"She'd worked all her life, and here she found herself alone with a little suitcase looking for a safe place to stay."
So far, only four of the Las Lomas units are occupied. Besides Yuknevich, the other residents are three women in their mid- to late-60s. One came to Las Lomas after living under a bridge, said Next Move housing specialist Vera Roberts.
Yuknevich, never married and with no offspring, said he left home at age 16. He grew up in Gary, Ind., one of three sons of a steel mill worker.
"I ran away from home because it was hard for my mom and dad to feed me and take care of me," he said. "I've been on my own since then. I left Gary and went to Chicago. That's where I got my street education."
When he wasn't assigned to a ship as a merchant seaman, he gambled, he said. And when his ship would dock in San Francisco, he'd get a ride to Reno, staying in Sacramento, the halfway point, for a few hours. "I played pool, cards, dice, everything," he said. "I made money. I lost money. Money has no home."
Over time, neither did he. He's lost track now of many of the details through the years. But when Roberts met him, he was napping at Loaves & Fishes' Friendship Park during the day and had been spending nights at Union Gospel Mission for a long time.
"She told me it wasn't right for me to live like I was living," Yuknevich said. "She's an angel."
His health is remarkably good, Roberts said, though he needs new glasses. He eats most of his meals across the street at the family shelter, and on nice afternoons, he takes his wheelchair down the block to the public library.
"I'm real happy here," said Yuknevich. "I talk to people and nap."
Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her in Twitter @AnitaCreamer.