Housing dispute leaves 97-year-old man homeless

2014-07-17T17:15:00Z 2014-07-31T22:39:04Z Housing dispute leaves 97-year-old man homelessHOWARD YUNE Napa Valley Register

Each morning, a variety of men and women pass through the doors of Napa’s Hope Resource Center in search for a place in a local homeless shelter that night. On Wednesday morning, one visitor looked no more or less weathered or beaten-down than the others – only more diminutive and older, decades older.

James Farrell arrived at 8:30 a.m., his 5-foot-tall frame arm in arm with a woman who had helped him find an interim place to sleep since a dispute with management cost the ukulele-playing 97-year-old his place at a local retirement home.

His white stubble giving his beret-topped face a careworn air, Farrell uncoupled from his friend and advocate, Carol Eldridge. In better times and better moods, he was ready with a jaunty tale filled with hundred-dollar words — but not this morning.

“Hangin’ in there,” he said wearily before walking into the Hope Center building on Fourth Street. Past the opened metal gates, a clerk would interview him to help decide whether he would have a place in the South Napa Shelter – with any luck, until month’s end.

“It’s not where he thought he’d end up, that’s for sure,” Eldridge said, suppressing a sigh. “Fought three wars, worked all sorts of different jobs his whole life – and all he wants to do is to sing and perform for people.”

Troubles at Redwood Residence

Over the past year, Farrell could not help but stand out among the men and women of the Redwood Retirement Residence – especially with his glib tongue or the four-stringed ukulele often in his hands.

With a visitor he was generous with tales from his past – as a Rhode Island youth performing in plays and dreaming of the big time, then as a World War II factory worker, a chauffeur for the British Consulate in Los Angeles, a Merchant Marine seaman during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was equally eager to share a song as conversation, the notes to “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” tinkling from an instrument he had played from the age of 7.

But trouble between Farrell and the Redwood home’s staff was brewing, according to him and Eldridge, who was then a saleswoman there for Redwood’s parent company, Holiday Retirement.

“They were a bit intolerant of him,” said Eldridge, who left Redwood in April to join the advocacy group Senior Visionary Services of Sonoma. “He likes to sing and they’d say, ‘Don’t disrupt anyone else’s life with your singing.’”

The breaking point for Farrell came not from his music or his talking, he said, but from the staff’s claim of unclean conditions in his third-floor room.

“He’d spill his coffee; he’d open up a can of soup and it would splatter. He didn’t have the dexterity,” said Eldridge,” who added she periodically called a local maid service to Farrell’s room. “Not everyone will be a little Martha Stewart.”

In the first week of July, he said, he was given an eviction notice and a $1,500 bill for a professional cleaning of his unit — a sum he said nearly exhausted his savings and left him unable to pay the lease.

“I was evicted with expletives and salacious lies,” said Farrell, his face growing animated. “Ninety-nine percent of what (staff) said is untrue. One percent is true; I moved some chairs because people with walkers bumped tables and knocked my coffee over.”

A spokesman for Holiday Retirement was cautious about going into details on Farrell’s departure from the Redwood home, but confirmed its staff issued him a lease termination notice July 6, giving him 30 days to leave.

“He was definitely not evicted, but he was terminated for the condition of his apartment and for behavioral reasons,” Brian Fawkes said Thursday from company headquarters in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Fawkes said he was unaware of Farrell’s claim of a $1,500 bill, but described an extensive cleaning job required after his departure. “The cleaning company said, ‘We need more sophisticated cleaners for this one,’” he said.

Meanwhile, Farrell and Eldridge have taken their grievances to Fair Housing Napa Valley, which advocates for tenants accusing their landlords of illegal evictions or other mistreatment, but Fair Housing staff said Thursday their work has stalled.

“I heard about this from Carol and didn’t have permission to talk to anybody” without receiving a complaint directly from Farrell, said Sherrie Brooks, a Fair Housing specialist. “So I had called him on his cell and left messages, but he never called me.”

Scrambling for a bed

After leaving the Redwood senior home behind, Eldridge scrambled to keep a roof over Farrell with his dwindling cash. They had arranged for his move to Piner’s Nursing Home – but his place would not open up until Aug. 1, after the next installment of his Social Security and veteran’s pensions.

There were a few nights at the Napa Motel 6, followed by four days at the Hostess House on the grounds of the Yountville Veterans Home he had called home for five years before moving to Redwood. But then, after one more day in another motel, the nonagenarian was down to his last $100 and a final option until August – the South Napa Shelter for the homeless.

“What I worry about is the kind of people who come into the shelter, if Jim will be vulnerable,” Eldridge said outside the Hope Center while a staff member interviewed Farrell inside. “This is not the safe, comfortable environment people of his age should be in.”

The shelter, operated by Community Action Napa Valley, imposes few requirements other than that guests stay sober and leave from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But Linda S. Powers, who directs CANV’s housing and shelter services, admitted a 97-year-old was not the kind of homeless person envisioned for the program – and readily agreed he could stay two weeks, nearly bridging the gap to his scheduled admission at the Piner’s home.

“My question was if can he go out during the day like everyone is expected to, and the answer was yes,” said Powers, who is also a pastor for Napa’s First Presbyterian Church. “We will watch it day by day; we will play that by ear. If I have staff where he can be inside for part of a day based on his age, we will keep eye on him. … We’re not talking about 180 days, we’re talking about a couple of weeks, so of course we can do this.”

Although other seniors may not be as aged as Farrell, Powers pointed to his plight as a sign of the dangers for elderly Napans on fixed incomes with few or no people to help them. (An older sister who has sometimes sent Farrell money is now 100 and in failing health, and other relatives in Southern California are estranged, according to Eldridge.)

“They don’t have family, a support system, or money to pay for assisted living,” said Powers. “As a community, we have to think about what happens with these folks. They can’t be disposable.”

The kindness of others

Thirty minutes after entering the Hope Center, James Farrell emerged with good, or at least less dire, news: There would be a bed waiting for him at the shelter that night, and for the next two weeks.

“To the extent I don’t have funds, they’ll try to assist me in this problem,” he said. “I told (the interviewer) of my service record, sang a song for her – which she said was fabulous.”

With little privacy to be expected in the shelter, Eldridge had arranged for a friend to keep Farrell’s beloved ukulele until his move to Piner’s. It was one concern among much graver ones, but no less appreciated by the instrument’s owner.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing,” he said. “I’ve always been able to pick myself up, but without my friends, things would be unremittingly tough.”

Editor's Note: The original version of this story, and the one in print in the July 18 edition, misspelled Eldridge several times.

Copyright 2016 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(33) Comments

  1. SugarSubstitute
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    SugarSubstitute - July 17, 2014 6:28 pm
    What can we do to help??
  2. cmrizzuto
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    cmrizzuto - July 17, 2014 9:46 pm
    I second that. How can we as a collective community help this 97 yo man?
  3. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - July 17, 2014 10:09 pm
    What a joke, really? a 97 year old person, what kind of people are these?
  4. Napa Valley SH Native
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    Napa Valley SH Native - July 17, 2014 10:22 pm
    How sad this is happening to someone who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation has to deal with this.
  5. superduck
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    superduck - July 17, 2014 10:44 pm
    I have not only had a song sung to me by this wonderful man, but the privilege of working with Carol Eldridge! Redwood Retirement should be ashamed of themselves! I will absolutely send this article to their headquarters. It won't make a difference though because they will take no responsibility!
  6. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 17, 2014 11:58 pm
    Omg. A retirement home annoyed by an old, probably stubborn headed, music man who can't keep his room clean?

    Ugh, let's see how well YOU keep house at age 97. Doesn't this place offer housekeeping services?

    Was there not a space available to let this old timer musician play his instrument which obviously brings him comfort? Maybe it could have brought another old timer some comfort if the facility had been more resourceful.

    Shame on them.

  7. Hasavoice
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    Hasavoice - July 18, 2014 5:33 am
    Such a sad situation. How can this happen? I'm glad this article is published because this man needs help. I know our vets home has a huge waiting list but our country needs to take better care of our vets.
  8. glenroy
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    glenroy - July 18, 2014 6:34 am
    I'll 2nd and 3rd that superduck....
  9. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - July 18, 2014 7:46 am
    Stories like this are unable to present all the facts and issues because of confidentiality. Redwood is a private for profit company that wants to to have as many residents living there as possible. It's only to their disadvantage to ask someone to leave and I bet they did everything reasonable to keep this resident. And we don't know why he no longer lives at the Vets home in Yountville. Although residents there do move out, it's not the norm. All I'm saying is we can't know all the facts and should be judicious about reaching conclusions or making accusations.
    Eric Vaughan
  10. sunburst
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    sunburst - July 18, 2014 7:58 am
    What a sad article. It angers me to read this knowing that this country lends a hand to so many of those "outside" our country, but we don't (note, I did not say "can't") take care of our own elders and vets.
    Shame on all of us and what's happen to this once GREAT country.
  11. galwriter
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    galwriter - July 18, 2014 8:24 am
    Holiday Retirement, based in Oregon, manages both Redwood Retirement and The Springs. I think a united community is very important is defining standards and values in caring for an aging population. I invite all of you to the Alliance on Aging, which meets the second Tuesday of each month from 8-9 a.m. In Conference Room 2 at Queen of the Valley Hospital. Come and help us make Napa Valley a great place to grow old.

    There are many elderly people who have very low incomes, need assistance with living, and cannot find a place to live. Jim's story is only one of them.
  12. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - July 18, 2014 9:32 am
    CCK, well said. I too wondered why he left the Vets home. We all feel bad for this man, but there are some missing facts to this story Why can't he return to the Vets home if he was a prior resident?.
  13. Piner's
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    Piner's - July 18, 2014 10:12 am
    Piner's will be moving him in today! He will be in a happier place now and a family environment. Yay for our community. Health and Human Services came through in a pinch as well! Thank you Carol for being such a wonderful Senior Advocate!
  14. StevenTorrey
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    StevenTorrey - July 18, 2014 10:24 am
    97 years old--and an eviction for 'singing' and bad housekeeping? Sounds like a law suit against Holiday Retirement for unlawful eviction...
  15. Livingthedream
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    Livingthedream - July 18, 2014 10:27 am
    For those of you wishing to donate here is the link.
  16. alucawanza
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    alucawanza - July 18, 2014 10:49 am
    Redwood Retirement is not an environment for this man. It is not a care home. It is for residents who can take care of themselves It's an apartment house-type setting. We don't know the extent of the care this man needs. Piners will be great. Perhaps Redwood should have waited until Piners opened up. If you want housekeeping at Redwood you have to hire it out. That's not part of their services. My aunt and mother stayed there for years. At that time I could see residents that would have complained about anything and everything. It was like high school all over again!!! It isn't cheap, either. I am so sorry for this man.
  17. Amcanchick
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    Amcanchick - July 18, 2014 12:53 pm
    My mother faced a similar situation there at the Redwoods. The mangers were picking on her because they didn't like her. I think this happens more than people realize. We all need to be advocates for all our elderly.
  18. JustNapa
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    JustNapa - July 18, 2014 1:02 pm
    If this man is receiving housing benefits OR has resided there more than s year, California law dictates the notice must be no less than 60 days. I hope FHNV can get ahold of him: he has rights. I cannot fathom how an organization geared towards retirement and senior living, especially a man in his mid-90s, could morally, and ethically put anyone on the street. I'm glad this got some well-deserved press. We can't treat humans worse than dogs. Sickening.
  19. destiny
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    destiny - July 18, 2014 2:40 pm
    I do not know Mr. James Farrell only from what I read on the paper and my heart is aching for him. I contacted Rev. Linda S. Powers how to send a little help, I learned that Mr. Farrell is in good hands and is receiving an overwhelming support from different organizations and people.who truly care,. Rev. L. Powers is an Officer for CANV (Community Action Napa Valley), She gave me her permission to add on my comment for those who want to help, If sending a check pay to: CANV (Please add note: Shelter) Address: CANV 2310 Laurel St,, Suite #1 Napa, CA 94559, Attn: Rev. Linda S. Powers. She can also be reached at (707)253-6100 Ext. 108. United with you, all heart-warmers, Message from Ms. Sony of Napa. (To: NVR, I do not know the rules, I'm sure you'll verify this before its publication, just want to reach-out) Thank you.
  20. Livingthedream
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    Livingthedream - July 18, 2014 4:22 pm
    We have already started an account for this gentleman. Community Action Napa Valley only helped him temporarily moving forward there is an account and proceeds go directly to him. Redwood Retirement was the perfect place for him and one of the commenters said it was not. I spent half the day with this lovely, bright, articulate man and he does not need assisted living. Here is the link for the donation page.
  21. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 18, 2014 4:44 pm
    See above from Piner's. Good for Piner's and the Health and Human Services folks in the County of Napa. You see, things like this can be done if the collective will is there. Does anyone remember Harry Martin? That fellow had to go to Sacramento to receive the help that Napa was unwilling to give him. He along with his wife lived in the Shelter for a spell. A little person in APS (I won't name him) refused to help him because of some editorials written by Harry that were critical about the County. I complained to APS about the elder abuse of shoving frail elders out the Shelter door at 8am in the morning. The shelter management did bend the rules so his wife and he could reside together. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in Napa regarding the elder Homeless. It just requires the collective will to do so. Money in Napa really is not a problem. Anyone over the age of ninety should be tracked to prevent little people like the Redwood management from exercising their will.
  22. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 18, 2014 4:56 pm
    Good job!!! I wonder if you could give a seminar to several of the better known Elder independent living establishments on the eviction policies of Elders. I would advance the name of Rohlffs, The Rreserve of Napa, Redwood, Springs, they all need a little bit of dusting off with a stiff brush and lye soap.
  23. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 18, 2014 5:00 pm
    COA pay attention to these comments!
  24. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 18, 2014 5:10 pm
    The dust at Laural Manor has a ways to go before it finally settles on the Elders there. Does the city of Napa Counsel really know what they voted for? How many of the forty-nine elders were moved out permanently to who knows where? What was the stated reason for a place with a 2.8 million cash reserve? We can't afford it?
  25. nihiole
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    nihiole - July 18, 2014 5:18 pm
    Hold on people lets not "pile on ", Redwood , without getting both sides of the story. I have been told,( family member works at Redwood) , Mr Farrell was sent packing from the Vetrans home prior to coming to Redwood. The condition of the room Mr Farrell lived in was cleaned by proffesionals who had to wear Haz-mat suits before entering. He is not the sweet ,"lil ole man" , as he is being described, rather highly combative and arguementitive . He was constantly fighting with other guests at the home, making life miserable for them. I think the Register should contact the Veterans home and inquire why Mr Farrell was evicted from their facility prior to coming to Redwood . They might also want to do a follow up in a month or so with Piners and see if their tune hasn't changed.
  26. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 18, 2014 6:21 pm
    You might caution your family member about gossiping about clients. HIPA rules frown on violations like that.
    Speaking of "piling on" what do you think you are doing?
  27. nihiole
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    nihiole - July 18, 2014 10:36 pm
    Better yet why don't we as a proud people of a great country have our elder family members live at home with us , where they would much rather be, instead of being shipped out and forgotten except of course on a holidy or two. Oh wait, we are far to busy, haven't the time, or the living space, or it would be too much of a hardship, and besides they would much rather be living with people their own age. Take the time to visit Redwood or any of the other "retirement facilities during Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is heartbreaking to see how many of their families never showed up, the look on their collective face's will tell it all.. Easy to assume that Redwood is this horrible place, guess what we wouldn't need these homes if people would treat their elders with love , and respect, and value them, learn from them,and instill in them selfworth. Enough said.
  28. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - July 19, 2014 6:59 am
    Nihiole, I agree there is another side to this human interest story, but Gnat is correct about the privacy laws. The bottom line is that it sounds like this gentleman was no longer capable of living independently. In our society, when family can't or won't step in, chaos for the individual often results. Thank goodness he had an advocate. His journey is a sad commentary of how our 'system', or more accurately the lack of a system, can leave the elderly and others extremely vulnerable.
  29. NAPAsince1976
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    NAPAsince1976 - July 19, 2014 6:17 pm
    people seem to miss the fact that this is a termination of a lease. Entirely different then an eviction. And what about "estranged" relatives.... There is an untold story here and , I'm thinking ,,one that would not shed entire blame on Redwood Retirement Home.
  30. Marty
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    Marty - July 19, 2014 7:58 pm
    Thank you Piners, disturbing how we treat our Veterans.
  31. Annoying_Gnat
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    Annoying_Gnat - July 19, 2014 10:04 pm
    1. The California rental laws weren't written by the lawyers for the tenant. They were
    written by the lawyers for the Rental Associations.
    2. Most elders won't fight because they were taught to obey authority.
    3. My grand mother taught me to always question authority.
    4. In Napa I have fought rental evictions 4 times successfully with breaking a sweat
    twice for me and twice for others. The rental managers were just that rental
    managers, they were not gods. They were just incompetent and ignorant of the law.

    I note in the comments that he didn't connect with fair housing in Napa. There might have been a different ending. Finally He was 97 and sent to the street which can be a death sentence for an elder.
    Napa since 1951
  32. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - July 21, 2014 2:41 am
    “He was definitely not evicted, but he was terminated for the condition of his apartment and for behavioral reasons"

    That sounds like he was involuntarily removed from his home - i.e. he was evicted.
  33. destiny
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    destiny - July 24, 2014 1:54 pm
    I want to clarify my comment I made on donation. That was after I read the news that he will be accommodated at the Shelter for approx. 2 weeks. That no longer applies (unless anybody wishes to) after comment from Piner's of accommodating him and another comment of donation being setup. About all comments made, they are all overwhelming, I learned from all and oll your concern deserve appreciation. It sounds like nobody knows all the truth and all the facts. I want to wrap up my thoughts of Mr. James Farrell: I wish, and hope that his wishes be granted (while also respecting others) so he can enjoy whatever is remaining of his life. I applaud you how you manage your life for 97 years. I salute you Sir, for giving of your life during the 3 wars of your dedicated service for our Country. May God Bless you, Mr. James Farrell, may he grant you inner Peace and may God Bless America. You will be in my Prayers.
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