Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.
If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.
The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.
A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”
After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.
At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.
One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.
Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.
So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!
Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession.
I am reflecting from a somewhat different position than the more usual perspective offered at LeadingAge meetings – the outlook of an octogenarian who has been a CCRC resident for eight years. In this, I hope that Proverbs 20:29 is correct in saying that “The glory of youths is their strength, but the majesty of old men is their gray hair.”
For CCRC residents like me, “long term” has a different meaning than it used to, but when involved in community affairs we still try to plan for others coming after us, even if we won’t directly benefit from the improvements we are working for.
Our life as residents is distinct in that it is essentially without power within the community, while we are at the same time exceptionally dependent on the spirit of obligation and stewardship of others. Residents face uncertainties in costs of care, the future of government funding, and the outlook for skilled nursing availability. The passage to a more powerless and dependent life has been a stormy one for some residents, and this has created some burdens for you as care providers.
We are in a time, in senior care as well as all other walks of life, when many are proposing answers, answers often not requested but nonetheless forcefully expressed, but fewer are asking the necessary questions and even fewer are willing to listen first. As a resident member of the LeadingAge California Board of Directors, I have seen that LeadingAge has been asking the necessary questions and is listening to the answers it is hearing.
You, LeadingAge and the senior services providers of California, are the people we residents are relying on, whether because of physical or mental necessity or simply by contract. These are demanding jobs, calling for great commitment, and often involve more stress and less compensation than employment elsewhere. It is noteworthy that many providers have a religious foundation, including my own, which began life in the mid-nineteenth century as the Protestant Episcopal Old Ladies Home. It has since relaxed its admission policy.
I have looked for a pithy saying to close my reflection, and the quotation, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, fits the challenges and obligations assumed by LeadingAge and the entire elder care community. A more personal aspiration was my mother’s frequently expressed measure of a person – wisdom. For her, the measure of success was not wealth, public acclaim or personal popularity, but wisdom, and her judgment that a person had no wisdom was a severe rebuke. I believe that the efforts of everyone at LeadingAge and all of you at our communities are meeting that test, and hope that you will continue to strive to do so. I and all residents of our communities are relying on you and I am confident that you will.