Donors save the senior safe house

Sacramento’s one-of-a-kind safe house for abused seniors won’t close this Valentine’s Day, after all.

Due to a publicity push that included coverage by SN&R, the Sacramento Senior Safe House raised nearly $200,000 in less than 30 days to cover the costs of a longterm donor who died last year.

The shelter, which takes in roughly 50 abused and neglected seniors a month, will now be able to remain open through June, when additional funding commitments are set to kick in and ensure the program’s fate well into 2015.

Christie Holderegger, chief development officer for Volunteers of America Northern California & Northern Nevada, which runs the program and nearly closed it due to the funding constraints, credited big and small donations from hundreds of individuals for saving the safe house. “In one month, donors from every walk of life have come together to close this budget deficit,” she said in a February 11 release announcing the news. “Our organization and the seniors we serve are overcome with gratitude.”

Most seniors often come in needing relocation or housing, which is harder if someone has an eviction on their record, even if it’s for simply forgetting to pay rent. Some need their banking information changed to protect them from siphoning family members.

Others are in a state of self-neglect: They haven’t paid their utility bills or bought food, and don’t have anyone to check in on them but the occasional neighbor. The homeless seniors the safe house serves aren’t typically the chronically homeless, but may have surrendered their homes to reverse mortgage schemes or lost jobs. Program director Juanita Daniel can count three different cases where a client’s social security insurance was hacked and drained.

“More often than not, the abuse is at the hands of the family member,” Daniel said. The reasons are myriad, but she said drugs and alcohol are often involved.

Sacramento County’s Adult Protective Services unit, which often refers clients to the safe house, conducted 3,219 investigations last year, slightly less than the previous year, even though it received a thousand more calls than in 2012.

APS program manager Ruth MacKenzie credited that to a shift in management and greater quality control. “We’re being a little bit more hyper-vigilant what qualifies as a call,” she said. “We’re a little bit more discerning, in my opinion.”

The unit confirmed roughly 35 percent of the allegations in 2013, while about 30 percent were inconclusive. “We just can’t say,” MacKenzie said.

She added that financial abuse has overcome health and wellness complaints as the primary crime against seniors.

Even though the shelter opened at the height of the recession, in 2009, Holderegger said it took about a year to see its ripples at the shelter, which has taken in approximately 245 people.

One of those individuals is named John. The 70-year-old had muddled through a frosty winter, one in which he spent a couple of the coldest nights indoors at the Union Gospel Mission, where he made due with the lockdown conditions and 4 a.m. wake-up calls. “Not like here,” John smiled during a recent interview.

John spends his days walking the spacious grounds, chatting it up with a Cuban-American man who’s also originally from Florida and watching television. The food’s great and he’s happy for now. But he knows it can’t last and he’s hoping that, when he leaves, he’ll have some place with four walls and a roof to go. APS and the volunteers at the safe house are both trying to make that happen.

Now they’ve got a little extra time to do so.

VOA board members originally planned to close the safe house on February 14, Valentine’s Day.

Photo by Jonathan Mendick.

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