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.
Originally published in Community News, San Francisco Towers’ resident newsletter.
Part of the charm of San Francisco Towers are the exquisite floral displays in the public areas of the building, created by the Flower Committee.
Of its thirty members, the Flower Committee has four members (plus a weekly flower carrier) who specialize in purchasing and arranging the flowers: Joan Tayler, Marilyn Jacobson, Sophie Lee, and Fukan Yen.
Joan and Marilyn spend Thursday mornings at the San Francisco Flower Mart, which was founded by Japanese flower-grower immigrants around the turn of the century. It is one of the oldest and most successful Japanese-American corporations in the U.S. There are more than 60 vendors using Mart space. The flowers used to be strictly local but now include imports from as far away as Israel.
The Flower Committee shoppers wander down the aisles of flowers displayed in giant buckets, fishing out a stem that looks interesting: a branch with berries, a particularly beautiful rose, or some palm leaves that would make a good background. Usually five or six stems are tied together and priced as a group, anywhere from $6.50 to over $32.
Joan and Marilyn base their selections on what will go well with what is still usable from the previous week, and any upcoming holiday. Independence Day next month? Their choices will be red, white, and blue. The total Towers bill can be as much as $150, which the Towers staff will later pay.
A grocery cart in the garage awaits the returning buyers. It is loaded with the bunches and taken to Craft Room 3, where Fukan and Sophie unwrap the flowers. They set aside the pieces they want for the arrangements that are developing in their heads. Fukan says she has to see the flowers before she can decide what she will design, and Sophie agrees. They begin work on their signature still-life arrangements and soon are joined by Joan and Marilyn, who seem to specialize in large bouquets for the lobby and other public spaces. Although questions are freely answered, the room is largely silent as the women focus on what they are doing with the flowers.
Flower arrangers have the showiest jobs, but a lot of Flower Committee work goes on behind the scenes. There are the carriers and the vase washers and someone who arranges the memorials to departed residents.
There is also a small team that works on Wednesday night after dinner collecting all the arrangements from the first floor, and the small vases from dining tables in Assisted Living and the Staff Lounge. They bring these to Craft Room #3, where the vases are washed and the flowers edited (“This daisy looks like it will survive another week, but throw away that tulip”). There are carriers who take weekly turns driving the buyers to the SF Flower Mart, helping carry the selected flower bunches, and delivering arrangements to their spots.
Flower Committee Chair Joan Tayler says she is not worried about the relocation in a few months of the Flower Mart to temporary space on Potrero Hill, while a multistory office and condo building is being erected on the longtime Brannan Street site. The Flower Mart is guaranteed a space in the new building. At present, it can take as much as 45 minutes to drive from San Francisco Towers to 540 Brannan; Joan thinks getting to Potrero Hill won’t be any harder.
Back in the old days, flowers were arranged and delivered from Whole Foods, which cost something like $48,000 to $60,000 a year. When Flower Committee volunteers took charge, the cost went down to $10,000 to $12,000 a year. This is one of the many reasons why we should be grateful to the Flower Committee.
Sophie seemed to sum up the spirit of the Flower Committee members: She does the work because she always has loved flowers and always will. All Towers residents owe the Flower Committee a giant thank you for making our home so beautiful.
written by Anne Turner
When the Spring Lake Village Resident Council decided to honor some of its longest serving volunteers, they saw it as another way to build community. The Volunteer Recognition program celebrates residents who have made a lasting contribution to the community’s life, many of which are unknown to newer residents.
“People who are moving in are enjoying so much being part of this community,” says Resident Council member Sharon Boschen, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2014 and now coordinates the Volunteer Recognition program. “And of course new residents have no clue of the contributions of so many of our elders here who have helped create this community that we’re all enjoying. And so this program is an effort to build bridges between these two groups.”
So far the program had had two presentations. In February, Don Sanders, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2005 with his wife Marilyn, was honored for his service as Resident Council president, Financial Study Group member, Fire & Disaster Committee, founder of the Conservation Committee and the Wellness Committee, and as a leader in the effort to develop the West Grove addition to Spring Lake Village. In April, Rodgers and Nancy Broomhead were recognized for their activities ranging from stocking and working at the Village Store to reading to residents in Skilled Nursing to hosting a “birthday monthly dinner orphans table” in the dining room to developing the yearly Robert Burns dinner and celebration.
“Those of us with German-Danish ancestry love being Scots for a night,” says Boschen. “It’s such a delightful presentation and just a real community builder, and you discover that you like haggis, which is a surprise.”
Honorees are nominated by the community through one of its 20-plus resident committees. “One of our suggested benchmarks is that these are people who have served in some capacity for at least ten years, someone who’s made a lasting impression on our community life.” says Resident Council president Gerry Porter, a resident since 2015. “We started out with the premise that Spring Lake Village is a community of volunteers and that we would not enjoy this wonderful place if it were not for people pitching in and doing things to make the community stronger.”
The goal of the program is to provide lasting recognition to volunteers who may no longer be as active. Similar to residents who receive a gold name tag for 20 years in the community, these recipients receive a platinum name tag that says Honored Volunteer.
“I noted when you see someone wearing that, give them thanks for helping to create this community we’re all enjoying because they have done a great thing for us,” says Boschen.
Recipients are honored during a presentation at a Resident Council meeting, each one unique to the recipient. “One of the things I noticed in the recent presentation is there is not a sound in the room when they’re going on,” says Boschen. “People are involved. They really feel good about knowing what is being offered there about these other people who may look to them just like frail elders, not shakers and movers who’ve created this beautiful community with us.”
Porter says, “It’s still an emerging program because we’ve only done two of them so far. The community here is very strong but it’s always changing with people leaving and people coming in. Trying to get people engaged in the community I’d say is one of the primary goals, as well as to recognize the people who have served so faithfully for so many years.”
“I think it’s an inspiration to us all when you see what these residents have accomplished and you know that you’re a part of this and you have a role to play here too,” says Boschen. “The audience is quiet and almost reverent as they listen to what these people have done. So they are inspirations to us. This whole process has brought an appreciation and a joy to the community.”
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.