Area ‘safe house’ for abused and neglected seniors to be closed

Their stories are heartbreaking: senior citizens who have been physically neglected, or financially exploited, or left homeless by fires and other disasters.

In Sacramento County in recent years, nearly 250 of them have been rescued by Senior Safe House, one of the nation’s first homelike emergency shelters for abused and neglected elderly people.

But the Safe House, open since 2009 in the Arden Arcade area and funded almost entirely by private donations, may soon have to close its doors, officials said Monday. Facing a funding shortfall, the nonprofit Volunteers of America is scrambling to find about $200,000 in little more than a month to keep the home open.

The Safe House had been supported largely by a major, anonymous donor who recently died, said VOA spokeswoman Christie Holderegger. Rather than imposing further cuts on the nonprofit group’s other programs, including a family shelter and drug and alcohol treatment facilities, VOA’s board of directors has reluctantly voted to close the Safe House unless alternative funding can be found, she said.

The board has given the agency’s administration until Feb. 14 to come up with at least $200,000 to support the Safe House through June, Holderegger said. VOA is soliciting donations from corporations and private citizens, many of whom are likely unaware that the home even exists.

“There is no place like it in the country,” said Maxine Milner Krugman, who founded Senior Safe House and chairs its board of directors. “We have to do whatever must be done to keep it open.”

The spacious, six-bedroom home offers vulnerable seniors short-term shelter and services, including meals, social visits, help with medical and other appointments, and assistance in finding safe and permanent housing. All services are free.

Most of the Safe House’s clients have been referred by Sacramento County Adult Protective Services. Others are referred by the Veterans Affairs and area hospitals. Some seniors seek out the home themselves.

Holderegger recalled one client, a retired Army veteran, who became malnourished and impoverished after relatives convinced her to move in with them, then absconded with her life savings. After many failed attempts to leave the home, she found out about the Safe House. She is now thriving on her own in Washington state.

“She told me that the Safe House literally saved her life,” Holderegger said. Another former client, also a military veteran, lost all of his belongings in a trailer fire. After a stint at the Safe House, he now lives in senior housing operated by VOA in Reno.

Closure of the Safe House would be “an enormous loss,” said Ruth MacKenzie, program manager for county Adult Protective Services. “I’m heartsick about it.”

Sacramento County receives about 4,500 reports of elder abuse each year, MacKenzie said.

While the agency doesn’t have the authority to remove seniors from their homes, it can help them explore safer options if they are being abused or neglected, she explained. For many, the Safe House is a perfect refuge. “Seniors frequently love it so much that they are reluctant to leave,” MacKenzie said.

Before the Safe House opened, seniors aided by Adult Protective Services received vouchers for rooms in low-income motels or moved into homeless shelters.

“Those aren’t very good options,” Holderegger said.

Donations for the Safe House may be made via VOA’s website, or mailed to Volunteers of America, 3434 Marconi Ave., Sacramento, CA 95821.

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