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Homeless seniors find home in new SoCal apartment complex

Brenda Hinson, 66, sits in the lobby of her new home: the Winnetka Villa Apartments. On Thursday, the complex's developer, PATH, hosted a grand opening ceremony for the apartments. The building's 94 units will all be filled by formerly homeless senior citizens.

Brenda Hinson, 66, says she remembers the way seniors were treated in other shelters — from a man left wandering around in his own urine and feces to mice and silverfish-infested rooms. One time, she went to a self-help clinic in Burbank, sick with pneumonia, before passing out on the sidewalk. No one came to help.

In the lobby of the Winnetka Villa Apartments, her new home, Hinson told KPCC that L.A.'s newest shelter for homeless seniors was a much-needed blessing. The apartments are for formerly homeless people 62 and older. They were developed by People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), an L.A.-based housing developer and advocacy organization.

At the complex’s grand opening on Thursday, Hinson spoke about her experiences to a crowd of about 100, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and advocates from around the city.

“Most of us here are over 60,” she said. “We don’t want no problems. We want to live the rest of our days here in peace and harmony.”

The new apartment complex is one of PATH’s five senior-specific developments in L.A. Seniors occupy all 94 of the building’s units. Inside, the rooms come furnished with appliances, TVs and mattresses. PATH organizes classes on site that help formerly homeless seniors navigate the challenges they face re-entering the workforce.

In its 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) said 3,752 people of L.A. County's 43,000 homeless were over 62.   

Jeremy Sidell, communications director for PATH, said the organization doesn’t have plans to construct more apartments just for seniors this year — that will be determined by how successful the existing developments are. For now, he said, PATH will focus on improving the lives of its current occupants.

“[Homeless seniors] tend to be more vulnerable — more frail,” Sidell said. “Life on the streets is very difficult, especially if you’re older and have been homeless for much longer.”

The senior residents were recruited from all around L.A., he said. Some were already living in shelters. Others were living on the streets. The residents pay only a small amount of rent to living in the complex, Hinson said.

Limiting the complex's population to seniors makes it more likely for Hinson to succeed in getting a new job as a telephone salesperson, her career before she got sick several years ago and applied for disability, Hinson said. The complex has on-site caseworkers who provide assistance with applying to jobs, as well as social and health services for senior citizens. Hinson said that camaraderie with other people in a similar stage of life living together also made it easier.

“[At Winnetka] we don’t have to deal with shenanigans that kids will do,” she said. “To us – it’s a big deal.”