Talmadge Gateway provides second chance for homeless seniors
By Jess Winans
When Melvyna Landry became a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) 27 years ago, she never expected to wake up one day homeless.
“I’m used to working and getting up every day and living in someone’s home and taking care of them,” the 58-year-old said. “Now I need somebody to take care of me in a way, and that makes me feel old to know that you need help when you’ve been helping people all day. It’s weird to be that person.”
Landry worked in the home-care industry until chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and later pneumonia caused her to be in and out of hospitals constantly, and she was unable to find or afford an apartment. For more than a year, she slept in shelters or on her daughters’ couches.
COPD “is a breathing problem that’s irreversible. There’s no cure for it,” Landry said. “I’m in the last stage of the disease but it’s OK. My daughters are upset but I say, ‘Look. I’ve been having it for 15 years. I’m still here, OK? Whenever you say ‘let’s go,’ I’m ready.’”
Despite her illness and all that she’s been through, Landry maintains a positive outlook on life. She dresses in bright colors and greets people with a big smile that uplifts the mood of everyone around her. She is passionate about her work and previous patients she has helped over the years, and it is clear that her experience in the health care industry was fulfilling for her.
Landry was just one of 8,699 homeless San Diegans, as reported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in January 2016, until she was offered an apartment in the new Talmadge Gateway community for previously homeless seniors with ongoing medical conditions.
Despite a misconception that people become homeless because of their work ethic, the National Coalition for the Homeless states that 44 percent of homeless people have jobs — they just can’t afford housing or have limits like medical conditions or disabilities that keep them from working.
“People think of homelessness as drug addictions and drinking and things like that,” said Kim Stratman, Residential Care For the Elderly (RCFE) Health Plan and Housing Manager at St. Paul’s Reasner and Akaloa Centers. “But the majority of the individuals we seem to be serving is because they’ve had life changes or life experiences that have made them homeless.”
While homeless shelters and housing for the homeless do exist in San Diego, not everyone is able, elgible for, or knowledgeable of them.
According to a report by HUD, 68 percent of the 550,000 people who were homeless on a single night in the United States in January 2016 were found in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs or safe havens.
Someone who is sympathetic to the needs of the homeless is state Sen. Toni G. Atkins, who attended the July 27 opening ceremony for Talmadge Gateway.
“I grew up in rural sub-standard housing and then I moved into urban substandard housing,” Atkins said. “But you know what? I had a roof over my head. And that roof over my head made it possible for me to get a good education and focus on that. It made it possible for us to live healthy lives. … I wouldn’t be here without those kinds of support and those things that made it possible for me to have a successful life.”
Talmadge Gateway residents must be participants in the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) before being eligible for housing and must be 55 years or older and be certified by the state of California as needing a level of care equal to nursing home services.
As a member of PACE, seniors are given free health services like primary care, medical specialty services, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, hospital/nursing home care as required, emergency services, health education, mental health services, meals and many others to those who can’t afford them otherwise.
This is the third housing project for PACE, which currently houses 622 former homeless people between their other two locations. Another 59 homeless seniors will be housed in 350-square-foot studio apartments at Talmadge Gateway.
At Talmadge Gateway, there are three stories of homes, a ground floor with parking, community rooms for on-site services, a supportive care office, a laundry room and a terrace on the second floor.
“It’s very rewarding to be a part of this project because here you have senior housing, which many of these seniors have been homeless and they have special medical needs, and all of their medical needs can be addressed here on site,” said Gordon Kovtun, principal of construction management and consulting services for KCM group.
“The fact that we’re able to provide affordable housing for seniors is a huge benefit to the community and the retail component of course is helpful to activate the neighborhood.”
The community was developed by the Wakeland Housing and Development Corp. in partnership with the City Heights Community Development Corp. (CHCDC). The units were designed by Studio E. Architects and developers also plan to add a coffeehouse for the whole community to enjoy.
“When I found out I had a room [at Talmadge Gateway], I was ecstatic,” Landry said. “It was good to know I was moving soon because I needed to breathe. Now I’m not out of breath so much.”
Landry enrolled in the PACE program last April on the advice of a friend. After being admitted into the program, she was given an oxygen tank, a pulmonary doctor and a home in Talmadge Gateway.
She now has a new outlook on life.
“I take life and live it to the fullest now,” Landry said. “I love life, and that’s the lesson I had to learn. I had to learn to be patient, because patience is not my virtue. That’s a good thing for me, patience … this is a godsend, and I like being here.”
For more information about Talmadge Gateway or St. Paul’s PACE program, visit stpaulsplace.org. To apply to be placed on the waitlist for the community, call 619-677-3800 or visit PACEenrollments@stpaulspace.org.
–Jess Winans is an intern with San Diego Community News Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.