When you think of growing old, perhaps traveling the world or spending time with the grandkids comes to mind. But, for some elderly, they're just trying to find a roof over their heads. One Valley group called "Justa Center" has made it a mission to help those seniors who need a place to call home.
"This car has been through a lot with me," says Teresa Dunlap, while showing us where she spent much of her time. It's not exactly what she pictured for her golden years. "I made sure I had padding on the back seat, and a pillow," she adds. "And, I made sure I was propped up." For months, Teresa called this home, sleeping, and living, inside her car.
"I don't know what I would have done without it," she tells us. "It literally kept me from being one of those on the sidewalk. You do what you have to do to survive. I think sometimes a person doesn't know what they're capable of handling until they're in that situation. "
After years of working at Access and helping others, this proud grandmother found herself to be the one in need. "People say take one day at a time, sometimes I felt like I was taking one hour at a time."
A back surgery and family challenges are what finally derailed her. "Living out of your car, living out of bags, is not fun, and of course there were a lot of challenges going on, and I didn't want to burden my family with what I was going through."
Dunlap is by no means alone. She finally discovered Justa Center, a day center in Phoenix that provides meals and resources to seniors over the age of 55. "A lot of times, it's just one catastrophic event that happens that'll pull a person into homelessness," explains Barbara Lewkowitz of Justa Center.
The main goal here is to help this often-overlooked and vulnerable population find employment and housing, and all the things they'll need to give them hope, and a home.
"We're talking about sheets, towels, pots, pans, toaster, coffee maker, blankets, anything that they need to set up their kitchen," says Barbara. Not only will Justa Center help place a senior in new housing, they'll set up them up with all the essentials. If you want to make a donation for a senior, a home starter kit, for instance, costs $250. And a "Bucket of Love," which is filled with household cleaning supplies, is just $25.
The center will also make regular house-calls to the seniors they place to make sure they're doing well and adjusting to their new lifestyle. "We have to take care of our elders, it's a cultural thing; it's just the right thing to do," says Barbara.
They'll see nearly 130 homeless seniors each day, for whom they will provide computers, food, and toiletries. And, they'll move upwards of 27 seniors into their own homes each month, including Teresa. Of those they've helped, Barbara says, 93 percent will actually stay in housing. For Teresa, this is now her second apartment.
"Instead of living out of bags, you have no idea," says Dunlap, of how good it feels to be able to call a place home. "I have an ironing board, thank goodness."
And, with a permanent place to call home, Dunlap says she feels safe, and can now concentrate on just being a grandma. "I have my own space. My dignity is restored because, for a long time, I just felt as if I was nothing."
Justa Center operates solely on private donations and gifts.
If you want to donate or participate, visit: http://www.justacenter.org/
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