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Paula Schleis, Akron Beacon Journal , Published May 26 2012

More emergency shelters being built for seniors only

HUDSON, Ohio – With the large baby boomer demographic getting older and the recent economic downturn taking its toll, there is a growing number of homeless seniors.

“There are only maybe 20 to 25 in the country,” said Kristin Keller, a social worker with Laurel House, a new emergency shelter, only the second of its kind in Ohio, that gives displaced senior citizens a safe place to land while making plans for permanent housing.

Keller said a typical emergency shelter can be a challenging environment for older residents. They can be busy, noisy places filled with children and lacking privacy. Meanwhile, seniors might have limited mobility, vision or hearing loss, memory problems, dietary restrictions and other common issues of aging.

Laurel House, a former single-family home that Laurel Lake Retirement Community acquired, is ready for its first house guests after two years of fundraising, renovations and required zoning changes and inspections.

Laurel House can accommodate up to five residents age 55 and older who will be referred by various agencies, churches and other organizations throughout Summit County, Ohio.

Guests must be able to live independently. They can stay rent-free for up to 90 days while nursing and social-service professionals employed at Laurel Lake help them figure out their next step.

Laurel House has three bedrooms with a total of five single beds. While some items, including bedding, were purchased new, most of the home’s items – from furniture to wall hangings to lamps and accessories – came from Laurel Lake residents who downsized when moving to the retirement community and donated their spare belongings.

The ranch house also has a walk-out basement, with a glass sliding door opening to an expansive backyard and pond. Floors and bathrooms were made wheelchair-accessible.

The Laurel House was renovated after a visit to Fairhill in Cleveland, the only other known senior guest house in Ohio.

Renovations were paid with grants, including $20,000 from the Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital Advisory Committee and Laurel Lake’s own community benefit budget.

The house and its 4-acre property, adjacent to the 150-acre Laurel Lake, were purchased by the nonprofit retirement community in 2005 for future expansion. The house was rented out, but when the last renters moved a couple of years ago, a board member suggested the idea of a senior shelter.

Cindy Rocco and Lori Reilly-Joseph are parish nurses employed by Laurel Lake who work with congregations in Hudson. The pair will add Laurel House to their responsibilities.

Rocco and Keller said they have seen many cases in recent years where an emergency shelter would have been welcomed.

They cited people in need of temporary housing due to a fire or structural damage of their home, and seniors who finished a hospital stay with nowhere to go upon release.

They also recalled cases involving a compulsive hoarder who had to leave while their home was cleaned, people who had lost their air-conditioning or heating at the height of the wrong season, problems with black mold, or seniors who faced a sudden loss of income due to a spouse’s death.

“There are all kinds of reasons why someone might need a safe place to stay for a while,” Keller said.

While grants helped pay for the renovation, Laurel Lake will fund the ongoing operation out of its own budget as part of its community outreach program, she said.