Near-homeless senior signs lease on home, finds new lease on life
By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY New Hampshire Union Leader
State Committee on Aging member Kristi St. Laurent, left, hugs Patricia Robinson, a Plaistow woman who was on the verge of homelessness following foreclosure. St. Laurent and other members of the committee have spent the last two months finding her a new place to live. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)
State Committee on Aging member Kathy Baldridge, left, helps Patricia Robinson pack her belongings. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)
State Committee on Aging member Kathy Baldridge, left, Kristi St. Laurent, left, helps Patricia Robinson pack her belongings. Robinson, a Plaistow woman, was on the verge of homelessness following foreclosure. Baldridge and other members of the committee have spent the last two months finding her a new place to live. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)
Patricia Robinson looks over the belongings as she prepares to move from the home she lived in for 43 years to a room in a mobile home in Portsmouth. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)
About this series
Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire's aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.
That’s a bumper sticker recently given to Patricia Robinson — and for this Plaistow woman who was on the verge of homelessness, it seems to be coming true.
Robinson, 66, lost her home to foreclosure and was given until Nov. 20 to get out of the place she’s called home for 43 years. She spent months on the phone calling agencies, organizations, churches and officials looking for help to no avail. She was ready to make her Chevrolet Aveo her home.
Out of options and out of energy, Robinson made a call in September to Kathy Baldridge of Bedford, a downsizing expert, to see about some help with packing her years of accumulated belongings.
Instead of help, Robinson found hope.
Baldridge is also a member of the State Committee on Aging (SCOA), a group appointed by the governor and charged with looking at legislation dealing with the state’s aging population. Baldridge got other SCOA members involved with Robinson’s case and with only days to spare, they found Robinson a room in a Portsmouth mobile home for $600 a month.
Robinson will pay $400 a month, with charitable groups like Isaiah 58 in Hampstead kicking in the rest. A church in Exeter is paying for a storage unit for three months for her belongings that will not fit into the 10-by-13-foot room she is renting. Her only income is her monthly $681 Social Security check.
By moving to Portsmouth where most of her doctors are located, Robinson has a better shot at getting subsidized housing in this Seacoast city. As a Portsmouth resident, Robinson’s wait might be only a year instead of a possible nine-year wait for subsidized housing elsewhere, said SCOA member Kristi St. Laurent of Windham.
Robinson’s one lucky call to Baldridge has resulted in a call to action by SCOA — to find a way for the state to address a crisis in affordable housing for older Granite Staters. With New Hampshire being home to the second-oldest population in the country, the group knows there are more Patricias out there — and they are starting to hear from them.
“If we don’t start something here, we’re all in trouble,” Baldridge said. “A five- to nine-year waiting list is ridiculous.”
Apply and reapply
St. Laurent took charge of finding Robinson a place to live. She and Robinson started reaching out to various housing authorities and housing programs — each with their own application and process, but all with waiting lists years long. St. Laurent said they spent hours filling out the applications, making photocopies of documents, and making multiple trips to the post office to mail them.
St. Laurent found many questions asked of applicants confusing, and some applications were returned and needed to be refiled. She said she spent hours on the phone trying to find help, but was passed from one person to the next.
“It would be a lot for one person, but I can’t imagine what it would be for older people,” St. Laurent said.
St. Laurent found better luck on Craigslist. That’s where she found the small room in a double-wide mobile home that Robinson could almost afford.
“It’s a godsend we found one in Portsmouth because they have the shortest waiting list for elderly subsidized housing,” St. Laurent said.
While calling on ads, St. Laurent discovered another issue.
“When I would reach out to someone renting a room — she would never be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment — or looking for a roommate, it was usually a 20-something not looking for ‘granny’ to move in, making the search that much more difficult,” St. Laurent said.
St. Laurent said she also researched shelters in case a home wasn’t found in time.
“The shelter in Portsmouth has a waiting list. It is the only shelter in Rockingham County other than a family one in Dover,” St. Laurent said. “The ones in Nashua and Manchester are first-come, first-served. It is very grim.”
SCOA’s new mission
The State Committee on Aging is a relatively new commission, created by lawmakers to make policy recommendations and look at legislation that could help New Hampshire’s rapidly aging population.
What St. Laurent and Baldridge have found is that most in state agencies and government don’t know the group exists — including many of the lawmakers who created it. St. Laurent said the group has found that by the time they hear of legislation, it’s too late for them do something about it.
Both women said seeing how difficult it was to find Robinson a home will make them and the board more proactive in finding solutions. They said this case has been both awakening and alarming for them.
“To go through the anguish this woman has gone through and find there are no choices — the state needs to understand,” Baldridge said. “These people are left with no decisions. ... The state has to do something.”
Robinson agrees. She said having help through this battle has given her new purpose. She said she wants to be an advocate for others.
“It needs to be happening for all,” she said. “Something good is going to come from this. Something good is going to keep coming from this.”