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“It’s rough if you don’t have people to help you out. ELAHP was almost like a second family.”
In a small one bedroom condo in the South End lives an 86 year old woman named Janet. If you saw her on the street, you probably wouldn’t think twice about her. She seems like a very ordinary woman. She volunteers at an annual neighborhood garden show, and enjoys concerts on the esplanade and watching public television. She is a proud survivor of breast cancer. She enjoys getting together with former classmates from the prestigious college for women she attended.
But Janet’s story is not what you might think. About thirty years ago, Janet was sleeping in church pews and eating out of garbage cans. She had suffered a series of devastating losses that pulled her down into a serious depression. One day, her apartment building was sold and due to her severe depression, Janet didn’t have the strength to look for housing.
Janet was too embarrassed to seek help from friends or family, and so she cut herself off from everyone she knew. For seven years she lived on the streets, sinking deeper and deeper into depression. On one very cold night, Janet had lost her shoes and sought refuge in the lobby of a nursing home. The staff at the nursing home sent her to a local emergency room, where she was treated for frostbite. The ER referred her for mental health services, which she gratefully accepted. Feeling a bit more hopeful, she accepted the safety of sleeping in homeless shelters. Eventually she connected with an outreach worker from an elder service agency who asked the Elders Living at Home Program (ELAHP) to help Janet begin her next big transition, to housing.
The connection with ELAHP staff was the safety net Janet had been living without for years. Janet isn’t sure how she survived on the streets, but knows that life is much better with people she can count on. She says, “It’s a very good idea to make sure that you have a network of people that can help you. ELAHP helped me get tied up with people that help me. Without help I wouldn’t have ended up as well off as I did.”
Within several months, ELAHP helped Janet start receiving social security, and she was approved for a permanent apartment. Janet is grateful that services like ELAHP exist in Boston. She says, “It’s rough if you don’t have people to help you out. ELAHP was almost like a second family.”
So if you see an 86 year old woman walking through the South End, or gardening, or volunteering at a hospital, and she seems to have a well lived look in her eyes, say hello and keep in mind that one never knows what someone’s story might be. And remember, too, that one never knows what their own future might hold.