Center Provides Shelter for Seniors

Wednesday, January 28th 2009, 12:53 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jeanne Olivier is a counselor at Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit agency that, among other things, provides emergency shelter for seniors who have been abused or neglected and who are in dire need of support.

"I enjoy my volunteer work; I've been doing it now for four years," Olivier said.

Five years ago, Olivier was one of Sunbeam's clients. An unexpected illness had turned her world on end and, at age 78, she found herself without a home, not knowing where to turn.

"I really didn't, and it was frightening because you think, 'Oh, my God. What am I going to do?' But I came here and they helped me," Olivier said.

Sunbeam officials said they have 10 beds, and they're in increasing demand by the elderly, and by disabled veterans.

Whoever it is, the goal is to begin working on a plan to get them out as soon as they arrive.

"We bring to bear our counseling services, our case management services," Sunbeam Executive Director Ray Bitsche said. "We do an intake, we learn about the circumstance the individual finds themselves in."

Gary Henderson is 59-years-old and a Vietnam vet whose post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, has made it tough to hold onto jobs and tough to pay rent.

"I left there, and then I was sleeping in my truck for a couple of days, and then I found this place," Henderson said.

Homeless advocates said, while Sunbeam's clients may not fit the stereotype of homelessness, they are, more and more, who Oklahoma City's homeless have become.

"It's tough to know them because they look just like us, they don't stand out, they just, they're not currently housed, and that's the real difference from the general demographic of the city," Dan Straughn with the Homeless Alliance said.

Getting them back in housing is what Sunbeam does. More than 90 percent of the time, they say.

Olivier said, without Sunbeam, she's not sure what she would have done.

"God, I don't know," Olivier said. "I probably would have called, I don't know who."

Sunbeam is one of the success stories, but the level of case management and individual attention clients get there doesn't exist at the city's larger, general population shelters, and what's more, Sunbeam could soon find itself overwhelmed, as it's estimated, for the next 20 years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day.