It’s easy to see the communities that Covia creates through its housing. What’s less known is the community created through its services. Covia provides Resident Service Coordination to 21 senior affordable housing communities throughout California, a service that’s largely invisible despite its impact on people’s lives.
Service coordination is about connecting residents with the public benefits, services and programs that can improve their lives and makes it more likely they will be able to stay longer in their homes.
“A lot of seniors have a lack of resources so we bring them community resources. We play the role of a bridge, connecting our seniors to local community resources,” says Bonnie Chang, Resident Services Coordinator for Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto. These can range from help with insurance or other paperwork to finding a way to pay for an electric scooter to registering residents with a local PACE [Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly], and much more.
Service Coordinators are also on-site resident advocates, says Ericka Battaglia, Lead Resident Services Coordinator at Good Shepherd Homes in Inglewood. “When I say advocate, I mean we support them through whatever they’re going through whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. If we see a resident is not doing well, we provide resources for them so that they’re able to get better and age in place successfully.”
Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, explains that one of the most important things RSCs do is provide wellness education programs on site. Giving residents information on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or providing fall prevention programs makes it more likely that residents will be able to live at home as long as possible, and prevent the need for invasive and costly medical interventions.
Service Coordinators come from a range of backgrounds, though many have degrees in gerontology and social work; most have Masters Degrees. Most of the Covia RSCs are bilingual or trilingual; among them, they can offer services in Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and ASL and help to bridge the gap between cultural and language barriers.
The advanced degrees in social work also help Service Coordinators speak the same language as community service providers, says Battaglia. “If you’re finding a resource for behavioral health, the process moves a lot swifter if you speak the same professional language.”
Battaglia explains that she works as a liaison between building managers and residents. While the property manager’s job is to maintain the facility and fulfill HUD guidelines, the RSC’s job is to see that the resident is doing well. “For instance,” she says, “my property manager will come to me and say, ‘We have a resident that is not going to pass this inspection because they’re hoarding.’ “Instead of just going to residents with paperwork, notices and warnings, I can go and say, ‘Let’s figure this out together.’” It’s a win-win situation.
Residents win when they receive the services they need. Mary Avina, Resident Service Coordinator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa, tells the story of a resident who needed significant dental work but couldn’t afford it. “He also desperately needed other medical procedures, but due to the infection in his mouth, he wasn’t able to get the other medical procedures done,” Avina explains. “So I assisted him in find the resources to be able to finance his most needed dental work to be done, and he was able to get that done and then able to get the medical procedure that he desperately needed. He’s very happy now and doing a lot better.”
“A lot of these seniors are – you know, they’re new to aging,” says Battaglia. “We’re trained to make sure their living experience isn’t another hassle for them, isn’t another barrier they have to overcome. We chose this because this is what we love to do, and this is the population that we want to serve.”
Artist Madeline Behrens-Brigham’s solo show A New Nest, a New Chapter is currently on display at Finley Senior Center in Santa Rosa. After 30 years as an artist and activist in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Behrens-Brigham has found a new home at Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Housing community.
Behrens-Brigham helped to shape the Hayes Valley neighborhood of shops and restaurants that we know today. She opened her mid-century furniture and art store, Modernology, on Hayes Street in 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake which damaged the freeway running through that part of town. She was part of the committee that went to CalTrans to lobby for the freeway running to be torn down – a change that led to the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.
“At one point I had keys to all the stores,” says Behrens-Brigham. “If the owner would get sick, they’d call and ask me to open the stores.”
Behrens-Brigham also organized block parties, co-founded the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and also served as a community board member of Legal Assistance for the Elderly, as a result of her own painful experience.
“For ten years I was pressured to leave my apartment in San Francisco, the landlords doing everything to get me out of the place,” Behrens-Brigham explains. “I was in a rent controlled apartment, but I’d come home and the manager of the building would invite the sheriff over. My landlord was a church, and for all the words on their letter head, they didn’t seem to care about me.”
With an annual income of $11,000, Behrens-Brigham found herself priced out of even many low-income apartments. She signed up for waiting lists and waited. She got to number 26 on the list for housing in San Francisco. When she asked how long it would be before she got to the top of the list, they told her it would be 11 years.
When the call came from Jennings Court, she and a friend drove up so she could see it for the first time. Though she hadn’t wanted to leave San Francisco, she knew this was her opportunity and took the apartment.
“When she first came here she had dyed blue hair and people were taken aback by that,” says Housing Administrator Sadie Bracy. “It was the talk of the town.”
“Now I have bright pink hair,” Behrens-Brigham notes. “It’s not so much that I wanted bright hair, but [the stylist] needed to teach others in the salon.”
“She’s constantly going places, inviting residents to do things, trying to draw people out and make friends,” says Bracy. “I’m always encouraged to see people move here and continue to have a good life.”
Behrens-Brigham currently serves as the Jennings Court Resident Council president. “My friends in San Francisco, knowing how involved I was politically, are laughing saying, of course we knew you’d become president.”
Getting a one-woman show “was a little bit serendipitous. I didn’t put my name forward. I didn’t believe I would qualify.” Though she offered to share the show with others, Finley Senior Center encouraged her to do a solo show.
Her art show illustrates through mixed media the new life she is building in Santa Rosa. “I went through a period of grieving to have left after 30 years. But now, I can honestly say, things are changing so much in San Francisco it’s not my town any more. The coffee shop is now a caviar bar.
“I’m making a new nest here and new chapter. I truly have done quite a few things in my life that other people consider unusual. I was a personal chef. I’ve done a number of interesting things. Some people have said, ‘When are you going to write a book?’ Well, I can’t write a book; I’m still writing new chapters.”
A New Nest, A New Chapter is on exhibit through February 22, 2018 at Finley Senior Center, located at 2060 W College Avenue in Santa Rosa.