Gettin’ Up There: FYI, ladies: senior-shared living may be for you

Sunday Signal

A dear, departed friend – a licensed psychotherapist who was as much a humorist as she was a wise scholar – used to say that the only real “fair” was found in Pomona. Judy Harris often spoke this line when counseling seniors who felt their lives hadn’t panned out so well. Being widowed/divorced, feeling lonely, hopeless and irrelevant, and facing limited funds and options – such challenging conditions were (and remain) some of life’s later years difficulties.

The only real fair is found in Pomona – such a declaration from a therapist, herself a senior who had survived cancer, divorce, an armed hold-up and numerous other OMG surprises and catastrophes, was not meant to minimize others’ anguish. It was to help them make the most of their time now by adjusting their attitudes, and choosing to live in gratitude, acceptance, joy and peace. Adaptation and mindfulness are big steps in this process. But that’s a tall order when you face a daily struggle in your own living situation.

Sadly, many older women live alone in a nice home but acutely miss the presence and warmth of another human being. This can lead to depression and isolation, and even impact one’s health. Then there are those who cannot afford the high rents in our community and face homelessness. Despair, decline and personal danger can easily follow. 

Neither situation is what these women envisioned as happening in their golden years. Where’s the “fair” here, right?

Thanks to visionary women who deeply care about their sisters in society, the Senior Shared Living Program is being launched. Part of the SCV Senior Center’s Advocacy Program, it’s a free housing-referral service that will help connect senior women age 55 and over with other female adults. A self-selecting service, the program brings women with room (to rent) in their homes together with those need a place to live.

One of the program’s founders is Peggy Edwards, a veteran advocate for the homeless, helping people transition successfully from jail, and other causes requiring humane and productive solutions. She says there is real need for the program. “There are many older women who still own their homes but due to widowhood, divorce or the kids being grown and gone, they are all alone.

“Then, there are those who are just barely hanging onto their current place and are on the verge of losing their home. This (program) is a win-win for everyone,” stated Edwards, also a longtime member of Zonta, which empowers women globally through service and advocacy.

Edwards noted that in 2017, focus groups were launched locally to determine which female population was open to the novel living arrangement. Among those queried were women experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence (of all ages), and seniors the latter of which replied with a resoundingly “yes.”

Linda Davies, who is a co-founder of the program and Senior Center supportive services program specialist, acknowledged that housing is difficult for anyone going through a personal or financial crisis, and the prices for rents in our valley make it even harder. “No one, a senior or a DV (domestic violence) survivor wants to leave the valley where they have family, friends and resources,” Davies said.

While Davies thought that healing DV survivors might welcome an opportunity to share a home and costs of living with a senior (not as a health aide but as a family) her focus and involvement changed once the seniors raised their hands.

“That is when it became clear that this should be a Senior Center project,” Davies commented.

While seniors comprise the first group served through shared living, others, such as single moms with children, families or college students on the verge of homelessness, may one day participate in similar shared-housing programs. Time and observation from advocacy members and case managers will tell.

Many people are struggling because of wage stagnation, medical bills, job losses and separation from a spouse by death or divorce, co-founder and senior advocate Diane Trautman cautioned.

“I’d like to see more people understand the stress that others live with every day and what that level of fear does to someone mentally, physically, and emotionally,” Trautman said. “Maybe that understanding would create more compassion and the actions needed to solve so many social ills.”

“It really does take a village,” concluded Trautman, who with her husband Allan, lovingly cared for his elderly mother in their home after she was widowed. “I’m so glad we were able to do it, but many other seniors are not that fortunate.”

Judy Harris would have agreed with Trautman. It does take a village. She also would have loved and recommended this program, and no doubt would have said, “Who needs Pomona when the fair is right here in our own backyard.”

For info on Senior Shared Living, contact Robin Clough at [email protected] or call (661) 259-9444 ext.110. The SCV Senior Center’s website: www.myscvcoa.org.

Diana Sevanian is a retired registered nurse and longtime Signal features writer and columnist.

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