This old house

Abused Sacramento seniors don’t have to take it anymore

Juanita Daniel is opening doors for abused seniors with the Senior Safe House.

Juanita Daniel is opening doors for abused seniors with the Senior Safe House.

Photo By Veronica Bartell

Eleven years ago, Maxine Milner Krugman envisioned a safe haven for abused and neglected seniors. Then a chair of the county of Sacramento’s Adult and Aging Commission, she has admitted to having “seen horrifying things, cases that just broke my heart.”

Elder abuse can be physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse. It can include neglect—inflicted either by a caregiver or self-inflicted. Whatever the type, it happens frequently: 2,400 cases of elder abuse were reported in Sacramento last year—and since that obviously doesn’t include unreported cases, that could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Until recently, Sacramento County Adult Protective Services was limited in its placement options of abused seniors. Mostly frightened and frail, these abused seniors were typically taken to a handful of local motels or homeless shelters that were unequipped to care for them. Feeling isolated and confused, many were willing to go back to their abusive environments.

Today, there is a better option.

Krugman’s 11-year crusade to establish the Sacramento Senior Safe House has become reality. Neither a medical facility nor a convalescent home, it is a refuge where “seniors in need will find caring, friendly people who will take the time to dispel their fears and anxieties and offer them a warm, welcoming environment,” explained Juanita Daniel, the newly appointed Safe House program director.

This brand-new, 4,783-square-foot, six-bedroom residential shelter broke ground in January 2009 and was completed in June.

The project began when Krugman approached the county to pitch the idea more than a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, county officials agreed that the idea had merit, but admitted that no funding was available.

Krugman was determined to succeed. She went to Mercy Housing California, a regional business center of Mercy Housing, a national, not-for-profit, affordable-housing operation headquartered in Denver. They adopted the project and recruited partners HomeAid Sacramento, a national not-for-profit housing provider for the homeless; and Lennar, a national home builder who served as “builder captain” for the project. Soon, the project was turned over to Volunteers of America to own and operate.

Through their combined efforts and a number of donations, the entire project was funded without any government dollars and will depend on its community to operate. Though funding was secured through the August opening, Volunteers of America is working to secure the program’s $300,000 annual operating budget. With the recent economic downturn, many forecasted donations have been delayed indefinitely. “It’s going to need the whole community,” Daniel says.

The Senior Safe House expects to annually help as many as 72 seniors, aged 62 and older, at the unique facility in a quiet, residential Sacramento area. For safety reasons, the location of this facility remains undisclosed. The home will accept referrals directly from APS, who will determine whether the individual is the right fit for temporary residency. The goal is to provide a 30-day stay for seniors; however, up to 90 days of shelter may be provided in order to find a more permanent living situation.

In addition to being the first of its kind, the Safe House was also “built green to save green,” according to Lennar vice president Laura Stickelman. “This facility was designed with the advantages of solar power coupled with efficient construction practices,” which enable the home to meet SMUD’s SolarSmart Homes requirements.

The month following the home’s solar-panel installation, a SMUD power bill showed a $12.56 credit.

Other amenities include a variety of donated, handmade quilts, standing gardening tables (which help seniors participate in this activity without kneeling or squatting), a fireplace, food, clothing and senior-made art on the walls.

“Of course, the safety of an abused or neglected senior is most important, but let there be no doubt that spending a little time in the Sacramento Senior Safe House should be a boost to self-esteem and remind these folks that they are worthy and deserving of respect,” said Krugman.

As of August 27, the Safe House was still awaiting their first client. “The meatloaf is in the freezer,” said Daniel. “We’re ready.”