Formerly homeless seniors prepare for holidays – The San Diego Union-Tribune


Dozens of seniors who otherwise might be living in a homeless shelter or even on the street are celebrating the holidays, and looking forward to a new year and a new life, in a recently opened low-income development in Grantville.

“I have a life that counts,” resident Renita Weathersby, 61, said about her outlook since moving into Trinity Place last August. “I’m just grateful.”

Weathersby said she had lived in a three-bedroom townhouse with her husband of 15 years, volunteering for charities and serving as president on her housing association, before her marriage fell apart. She lost track of how many years she lived on the street, a blur that involved drug addiction and at times sexual abuse.

“If you look at my pictures when I first came and look at me now, I feel brand new,” she said, smiling. “I looked really tired. I looked really weary. Kind of scared because there was just so much devastation going on while I was out on the street.”

Trinity Place opened in September at 6240 Mission Gorge Road and is the second project Wakeland Housing & Development Corporation developed specifically for formerly homeless seniors. The 74-unit project was preceded by Talmadge Gateway, which Wakeland opened in 2017 with 60 units for formerly homeless seniors.

Residents at Trinity Place must be 55 years or older and have a chronic illness, and three agencies work with tenants. Three case managers from People Assisting the Homeless help residents with day-to-day issues such as keeping medical appointments and paying rent on time, St. Paul’s Senior Services/PACE program provides medical attention, and county Behavioral Health Services works with 18 tenants diagnosed with serious mental illness.

“This shows San Diegans we don’t have to accept the status quo,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said on a visit to Trinity Place on Friday. “We can successfully transition people off the street and into permanent housing. This is what it looks like.”

Trinity Place opened in September with 73 units for homeless seniors.

Trinity Place opened in September with 73 units for homeless seniors.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gloria visited Trinity Place with Councilman Raul Campillo, and together they posed for photos with residents and pitched in decorating Christmas cookies in the community room adjacent to a large outdoor quad with planters, trees and picnic tables.

In September, the local nonprofit Serving Seniors released a report that found the number of older homeless San Diegans is expected to increase significantly in the new few years, and more action was needed to prevent a surge of seniors on the street and in shelters.

A year-long survey found that many older people said they were struggling to make rent, and a majority said they needed an additional $300 a month to be housing secure.

Jonathan Castillo, chief regional officer for PATH, said the project represents a strategy of finding homeless solutions by focusing on specific populations.

“There’s so any different sub-populations within homeless people, and with every sub-population, they have unique and special needs,” he said. “What we see here with people who are 55 and older is there’s more geriatric needs you have to consider, which is why Wakeland did a collaboration with PATH and St. Paul.”

Other local housing projects for specific populations include North Park Seniors, a 76-unit LGBT-affirming community that provides supportive services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors, and Alpha Lofts, a 52-unit project that provides affordable housing for homeless veterans in Normal Heights.

Homeless people may turn down shelter and housing if they feel the fit isn’t right.

Olvia Torrez, 61, said she had been a client of Father Joe’s Villages while she stayed at the temporary shelter at the San Diego Convention Center, and she was cautious about her next move.

“They kept sending us to other places, and I said I’m going to wait for something that’s suitable,” she said about her decision to move into Trinity Place.

Torrez said she became homeless in March 2020 after losing her job as an Uber driver when the pandemic caused a shutdown.

Elaine Camuso, director of communications for Wakeland, said the project and similar ones developed by the community will remain as affordable housing for the population it serves for at least 55 years.

“We know by looking at the point-in-time count and other statistics that there will be more and more a really big need,” she said about the population of homeless seniors.

Wakefield will hold a grand opening Jan. 27 for its next project, Ivy Senior Apartments in Clairemont, which will provide 52 units for formerly homeless seniors, she said.

Trinity Place cost $34.2 million to develop. Funding included $20.4 million in low-income housing tax credits from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, $4.5 million from the California Community Reinvestment Corporation, $4.8 million from Civic San Diego and $700,000 from the San Diego Housing Commission, among other sources. The county of San Diego and the Special Needs Housing Program under the California Housing Finance Agency together provided another $2.7 million.