One of Senior Community Centers’ programs that I am most proud of is our Transitional Housing Program (THP) for homeless seniors. It utilizes a “housing first” model which means we transition seniors directly from the streets into a safe housing situation with intensive case management. We house 35 seniors in a downtown single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel and we have two assisted living units for seniors too frail — mentally and/or physically – to live on their own even with support.
But to truly understand what it means to be a senior and homeless requires the story of real people. A few months ago I met a delightful couple named Bill and Sonia who recently celebrated more than 50 years of marriage. Sonia at 84 is a beautiful woman with a “dancer’s body” that she honed as a fabled Radio City Music Hall Rockette in her youth. 91-year-old Bill still has a robust physique earned from decades as a general contractor.
But outward appearances can be deceiving. Bill and Sonia had been homeless three months the day I met them.
They hadn’t had a real meal in two weeks, surviving on crackers and candy bars while sleeping in their car, which Bill moved frequently to avoid being rousted by the police. A Senior Community Centers’ social worker discovered them earlier that morning while participating in a count of homeless in downtown San Diego. A fire had destroyed their apartment leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their back and a car.
The lack of proper food had worsened Sonia’s dementia, leaving her confused and very weak. Our kitchen immediately prepared two hot meals with extra portions that were devoured with an intensity magnified by starvation. Bill, tears streaming down his face, hugged me and said, “I’m supposed to take care of Sonia and I couldn’t even feed her. Thank you.”
Something you should know about this vital program is that the housing units are funded through Redevelopment funds provided via the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC). You may have seen the news reports about the California Supreme Court decision that eliminates Redevelopment Agencies like CCDC and the funding for programs like THP.
This ruling, absent some serious intervention from the City of San Diego, could very well be the death knell for this highly successful program. Senior Community Centers is preparing to battle with every ounce of our wits, abilities and muscle to ensure that this program doesn’t go away. Please check back in this space periodically to see how you can help in this effort.