Appearing in the Sunday, December 9th, 2007 Sacramento Bee was a wonderful article about Anna Zoubak, an 87 year old senior in quite a predicament. The remarkable thing about the story was not only its content, but that it appeared in a Sacramento newspaper of all things. It was an account of how various Yolo County agencies, private enterprise and volunteers coordinated efforts to assist an older adult at risk. To put it more succinctly, the narrative described a process that should serve as a model on how to accomplish great things. What follows is nothing short of a miracle.
From Proposition 63 funding, Yolo County Department of Alcohol, Drugs, & Mental Health (ADMH) formed the Older Adult Program – a mobile assessment team for seniors in crisis. An elderly lady of Russian descent named Anna Zoubak and her disabled adult son George came to the attention of the Older Adult Program’s Supervisor, Nancy Edgar and Social Worker/Russian Translator Tatyana Solimena. Mother and son were living together in an apartment that had become unsafe for them. Persons in the neighborhood were targeting them for a place to stay overnight and asking them for money. Anna had become quite distressed and tearful on a daily basis.
Despite being elderly and in poor health, Anna kept insisting she wanted to return “home”. However, no one seemed to know if the frail woman ever had a house; or if she did, where it could possibly be. The matter was referred to me in my capacity as Executive Director of Building Bridges, an organization designed to prevent elder abuse. Building Bridges is a project of the Triad Task Force, a subcommittee of the Yolo County Commission on Aging & Adult Services. Through donated services, a title company determined that indeed Anna did own a home.
Unfortunately the residence was uninhabitable because of numerous building code violations. According to the Sacramento Bee article, written by Lakiesha McGhee, “[A code enforcement officer Debbie] Neuman was called to Zoubak’s home in January 2006 to investigate a complaint about inoperable cars in the driveway, rodents, and overgrown vegetation. Neuman said when she arrived at the property, she suspected far worse conditions. She returned with a Russian-speaking police officer after several failed attempts to contact Zoubak. A home inspection found weak points in the ceiling and floor that caused the walls to buckle out… An addition to the back of the home was separating from the main house. The floors were slanting because the house was built atop concrete that had rotted…A building inspection determined that the house was unsafe and Zoubak would have to move.”
Extensive coordination was put into play, between county and city agencies as well as private enterprise. Debbie Neuman, Senior Code Enforcement Officer of the City of West Sacramento Police Department, became heavily involved. She was joined by Louise Collis, Senior Program Manager of the City of West Sacramento Housing & Community Investment as well as Adult Protective Services. All parties concerned, including the Older Adult Program and Building Bridges, worked tirelessly to facilitate demolishing the existing house to erect a replacement dwelling for Anna and her son. There are still a number of details still to be sorted out.
Funding for the project was provided by a substantial deferred loan and several grants approved and provided by the City of West Sacramento. Cousin Gary Homes located on West Capitol Ave. was selected by the city as the business of choice to provide the new modular quarters. The case of Anna and her son George represents a remarkable milestone for the Older Adult Program – which proactively garnered the necessary resources to assist a senior citizen in desperate plight.
Housed within ADMH, the Older Adult Program is mobile and available to older adults experiencing a crisis which has mental health ramifications. A determination is made as to what services are appropriate and available, based on a thorough assessment of the client’s totality of circumstance. The Older Adult Program is designed to reach underserved vulnerable populations. If it proves consistently successful, the hope is for this project to have funding to expand and provide more services for the elderly in the future.
I was on the original Proposition 63 planning subcommittee for older adults, along with Dave Soto of the Area 4 Agency on Aging, attorney Sean Rashkis, Barbara Grigg – a retiree from ADMH, and two stakeholders, one a patient herself and the other a father of a mentally ill child. It is fascinating to see the subcommittee’s vision of a mobile assessment team for the elderly implemented after all those many months of development. What a triumph over tremendous odds for this project to come to fruition so productively.
Nancy Edgar, Supervisor of the Older Adult Program said, “It has been gratifying and exciting to be part of [Anna’s] story. Without the collaboration of the various community partners, particularly…Building Bridges, a successful outcome would not have been possible.” I provided what I like to call “shuttle diplomacy”, whenever the legal process would stall and needed a nudge to move forward again. Social Worker Tatyana Solimena worked tirelessly with her clients Anna and George, shepherding their part in the process along, giving tremendous assistance wherever it was necessary. Both the Older Adult Program and the City of West Sacramento will continue offering these two additional help on an as-needed basis.
It is interesting to note that the funding for this new modular home was provided by redevelopment funds, in the form of a no-interest deferred loan. It is a sizeable chunk of money to expend on just two people, although the city will recoup most of its expenditure eventually when Anna and George are no longer living, or the house is sold. The idea behind such a large disbursement of community block grant money is to remove blight from the city. Had the West Sacramento government followed through with the normal process of condemnation, the house would have sat empty until the legal process was complete. In the meantime, vandals would have further destroyed the abandoned home, and it would have become a magnet for criminal activity.
The City of West Sacramento is working to improve neighborhoods in Bryte and Broderick, which are two older areas in the northern section. If older homes are allowed to fall into a state of disrepair and are then condemned, the result will be a lowering of property values for the entire community. If financial assistance is given to rehabilitate these residences to whatever extent is necessary to make them habitable again, neighborhoods for the low-income remain healthy and viable for the good of everyone. However, because there is such great need and the city has only limited funding, assistance is on a first-come, first-served basis.
According to the Sacramento Bee, “Since January, the county has received 250 referrals about elderly people in bad living conditions. Many cases occur in West Sacramento, where there is a large population of elderly residents living in trailer parks…Sacramento County Adult Protective Services reports similar problems…“It’s rare that we see a situation when it’s only about the home falling apart,” said Paul Harling, APS program manager. “In almost 34 percent of the cases or higher, there is some marked deterioration in the health of the person.”…The problem is expected to grow as more people live longer. Agencies across the state are setting up teams similar to Yolo County’s Older Adult Program.”
Lesson to be learned: Agencies, private enterprise and volunteers can make a difference in the life of citizens who fall upon hard times. As the old adage goes, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Someday it may be you who requires the assistance. It does take a village to care for those in need, by pooling resources and pulling together for the good of everyone. Reach out to a lonely senior this holiday season, and let them know you care.
To Readers: Do you feel an example similar to the case above is a good use of redevelopment funding? In Davis, the City Council just approved the use of redevelopment funding to add a second screen to the varsity theater. Any other examples/opinions you would like to share of redevelopment fund uses you know about?
Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please note in the comment section.