The Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility
Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century
January 14th, 2002
Alfonso Villaraous (Resident)
Speaking for his brother Adolfo and his sister Carmen
MR. ALFONSO VILLARAOUS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission and guests.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about my experience with the first the public housing assisted living facility where my sister and brother and his wife currently live.
My name is Alfonso Villaraous. I have lived in Miami for many years with my family. We are a very close family. I'm the youngest member of my family and I have always taken care of both my older brother and sister, the way our father taught us to do.
My brother, Adolfo, is 88 years old, suffering from hypertension and is confined to a wheelchair. My sister, Carmen, present here with us, she's 79 years old and has Alzheimer's.
They have lived at Helen Sawyer Plaza assisted living facility for more than a year in their own apartments on the same floor, just a few steps from each other. They live independently before until there we not able to take care of themselves. I worked and I was no able to take of them all the time. They wanted to remain independent in their own homes and yet, they needed 24-hour supervision.
My sister, Carmen, for example, refused to move without her piano and organ. She was a very talented musician and refused to live without her music. I lost my peace of mind because I didn't know what to do. To make matters worse, they were very lower income, relying on their meager Social Security checks to pay for all their expenses.
Then I heard about Helen Sawyer Plaza assisted living facilities. Their lives and mine have changed forever since that day. Helen Sawyer Plaza is part of Miami-Dade public housing. It is the first project of its kind in the nation. It opened its doors back in 1999 to serve the underserved, the most needy, the poor elderly. This a regular public housing apartment building, eight stories high, 101 apartments, built in 1976.
But what is significant about Helen Sawyer Plaza is the services that are provided to the 101 seniors that live there; the kindness, respect, and the dignified way in these residents live the last years of their lives.
They live in their own apartments, with their own bathrooms and kitchens, although they have three meals every day served in the building dining room, cooked by Helen Sawyer Plaza personnel. And they have a dedicated staff around the clock to assist them. The staff come in only after knocking on their doors and asked to come in.
They have hours of entertainment that keep them in good physical and mental health. They have peace of mind because they feel secure and know that they are not alone, and in case someone needs assistance, they will have it right away.
I had thought it would be impossible for Carmen and Adolfo, my sister and brother, to move into Helen Sawyer Plaza. They have remained full since opening day and have a long waiting list of residents. I told the administrators that if they were not able to move in right away, they'd have to move to a nursing home. There was no other way for them.
My family was able to move within a week. In this place, both are very happy because they feel everyone treats them with love and respect.
Facilities like Helen Sawyer Plaza assisted living facilities are so much needed. I am here to tell you our story. It's a sad and beautiful one and to urge you to consider the model of Helen Sawyer Plaza in your plans. Poor elders throughout this nation have no choice but to move into a nursing home when no longer able to live alone. This was the case with my brother and sister.
I know that they would not have lived long in a nursing home; my sister had lost all desire to live. She is now living with dignity and it is a matter of choice. If you do not have a choice of where and how you want to live, you cannot live with dignity.
We need to create more Helen Sawyer Plazas throughout this nation. We need to give that choice to our seniors, the same choice my brother and sister were fortunate to have.
Thank you. If you have any questions, I'd be glad to answer them.