Project: Homeless | A trend of elderly, vulnerable adults being left at shelters

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comNovember 25, 2013 

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    Project: Homeless, a joint investigation by the Herald-Leader and WKYT, is available on Kentucky.com and WKYT.com. There is a video on both sites.

Henry Sebastian spent most of the last days of October pushing his disabled wife through the streets of Lexington, looking for a place to stay.

The 55-year-old ex-Marine and his wife, Jennie Sebastian, 66, who has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair, used to live with Jennie's adult daughter, who helped take care of her disabled parents.

But their daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Jennie Sebastian said. She couldn't take care of her parents and make all of her medical appointments. She paid for a motel room for her parents in mid-October and left.

Henry Sebastian said he has no ill feelings toward his stepdaughter. He realizes that she could no longer help.

"She didn't really do it on purpose," Sebastian said. "She had to take care of herself."

But the Sebastians' tale is not uncommon, said Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn. Ramsey eventually helped the Sebastians find an apartment with another formerly homeless veteran who can help take care of the couple.

In the past year, Ramsey said, she has seen about a dozen elderly or vulnerable adults "dumped" at the Catholic Action Center, a day center for the homeless, or the Community Inn, a shelter that houses men and women.

"What is happening, I think, is just what's happening with everyone in terms of the economy," Ramsey said. "The economy is such that they can't take care of themselves, much less take care of extended family."

No one tracks the number of elderly or vulnerable adults who end up on the streets because a caregiver leaves them. But other homeless providers in Lexington and Louisville say they, too, have seen elderly people left because caregivers can't or won't take care of them.

Maj. Debra Ashcraft, of the Salvation Army in Central Kentucky, said that the Lexington shelter that serves families and women has seen about a dozen elderly or vulnerable adults left at the shelter in the past year. Sometimes it's because the relative has committed fraud with an elderly woman's Social Security check. The Social Security Administration becomes suspicious, the checks are halted and the relative then leaves the older person at the shelter.

"It sometimes takes us as long as eight months to get the Social Security benefits reinstated," Ashcraft said.

It's not just relatives who leave the elderly at shelters.

Linda Romine, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent de Paul men's shelter in Louisville, said that in the past two months, three men who were either elderly or disabled have been dropped off at the shelter.

"We had one man who was brought to us by a moving company," Romine said. "The landlord had evicted him and told the moving company to bring him to the shelter."

The man was 85.

Ramsey said that recently, two men with cerebral palsy had been left in a Lexington hotel by a caregiver. It's not clear why the caregiver left the two men. Ramsey was able to find the two men an apartment.

Ramsey said that earlier this year, a woman dropped off her mother at the Catholic Action Center. "She just dropped her off and drove away," Ramsey said.

Also this year, an elderly couple came to the Community Inn after their son had allegedly persuaded the couple to sign over their house and then kicked them out. People had tried to get the man to press charges but he didn't want his son prosecuted. The man was 80 and his wife was in her 70s.

The Sebastians say they were on the street for several days. Then Henry became ill and had to be hospitalized at the Veterans Medical Center for several days because of a kidney and bladder problem. Ramsey was notified by Veterans Medical Center social workers about the Sebastians because they had no place to send the couple once he was discharged. Jennie Sebastian ended up at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital while her husband was in the VA hospital because she isn't a veteran and they couldn't take care of her.

The VA hospital was going to put the Sebastians up in a hotel for a night after Henry Sebastian was discharged until they could find a more permanent solution. But somehow, the Sebastians ended up at the Community Inn for a night. They then left the Community Inn and went downtown, where Ramsey's staff was able to track them down.

Jennie Sebastian was concerned that someone was going to try to place the two in a nursing home, or worse, that they wouldn't be able to stay together after more than 15 years of marriage. After a Lexington police officer explained that no one was going to a nursing home and that the people from the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn were only trying to help them, the Sebastians consented to come to the apartment.

Ramsey said she isn't concerned about how the couple ended up on the street. She's focused on trying to find a way to keep them off.

"Henry and Jennie were on the street. They are vulnerable people. "Ramsey said. "She doesn't want to leave her husband. He doesn't want to leave her. I don't know if either one of them would live without the other, to be honest."

The Sebastians have been in the apartment for about two weeks. The apartment, off Cambridge Drive, is for homeless veterans. Two veterans moved out of the apartment, so the Sebastians could move in.

"Three days later, they looked different," Ramsey said. "They were eating. They were sleeping. They had a new roommate and a new community. Where they go from here, we don't know. We're not going to have them back out on the streets, I can promise you."

Both receive Social Security disability payments and could qualify for some housing programs that allow people to pay only a portion of their income.

Henry Sebastian said he's just thankful that they were able to find a place.

"We got help," Sebastian said. "I feel so good that we finally got out of the situation."


See more

Project: Homeless, a joint investigation by the Herald-Leader and WKYT, is available on Kentucky.com and WKYT.com. There is a video on both sites.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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