East Rock Village Becomes “HomeHaven”

Allan Appel PhotoA new idea for keeping seniors in their homes, hatched in East Rock, is spreading through New Haven and across city lines.

The group behind the idea, East Rock Village, held a party Saturday night to celebrate its new name and broadened mission.

Call it “HomeHaven” now. It will now help the elderly stay in their homes not just in East Rock, but in Westville and Orange, as well. A similar effort has taken root in Branford.

Executive Director Bitsie Clark said the two-year-old group’s mission remains the same: Clusters of volunteers give each other rides to the doctor. They provide a list of vetted handymen and organize cultural events like Louis Audette’s bimonthly concerts to keep seniors connected, healthy, and active so they age in their own homes, not in nursing facilities. They form a community without walls.

Click here for a story about the Boston-based Beacon Hill Village, the inspiration for East Rock Village. And here for one about the national network of which East Rock Village, or rather now HomeHaven, is a part.

After two years of operation the group has 110 households or about 168 people as members. For access to services an individual pays $600 a year, a household $800. About 10 percent of participants’ fees are subsidized, said board chair Jane Jervis.

Approval of East Rock Village‘s not-for-profit status was based on its working in “contiguous neighborhoods.”

When Susan Feinberg of Westville called Clark a year ago and began to make inquiries, Clark could help Feinberg establish her own village. Yet she couldn’t technically give her the name of a good, reliable yard worker to help Feinberg with those pesky fall leaves.

Feinberg has a back problem with pain in her legs, she said. That makes it harder and harder for her to maintain her Westwood Road property. She said she wants her kids and gran kids to visit her there, not in an assisted living facility.

A year ago Clark attended a meeting of about 20 people at the Mitchell Library that Feinberg set up. The aim was to tutor local Westvillers in how to establish their own “village.”

But the stars were aligned another way.

Feinberg said that when she learned it had taken East Rock Village three years to incorporate and get going, the idea of being a unit or cluster under an East Rock Village umbrella seemed “perfect, exactly what I’m looking for.”

The timing was right for Clark and East Rock Village: Calls were coming from points beyond the the East Rock core. And hospital social workers have begun calling to take part.

“The hospitals are being fined for readmissions. Our organization helps people stay” in their homes instead of returning to hospitals, she said.

Combined with the waves of Baby Boomers reaching older age, that trend convinced Clark and her board to convert East Rock Village into an umbrella organization “that can deliver services from a central office to neighborhood groups,” she wrote in an email.

Jervis said to be viable financially HomeHaven needs to have about 300 households.

The East Rock village began as an idea of retired academics and it continues to involve mainly middle class, white homeowners. Jervis, who with her husband has four grown children all living far away, described it, modestly, as a kind of “concierge service” for people whose backs are not as strong as they used to be and who are letting their drivers’ licenses lapse.

She gave the example of a member who wanted to visit a housebound daughter in Fairfield but could not afford the prohibitive round trip taxi fare of $125. Through the village’s network, a person was found who did the transport for a much lower price.

In another instance a member died and the far-away children called for help to find an appraiser for the deceased’s house and estate.

The HomeHaven concept will enable the group to diversify and reach out to other communities in New Haven and beyond offering the non-profit umbrella and attendant efficiencies of scale, Jervis said.

Jervis, an historian of medieval astronomy by training, said that on one level “what we’re trying to replicate is maybe a ‘mythic’ [community.] The kid next door cutting your grass. We’re trying to counteract the atomized national worship of individualism, trying to build a community of caring for people who [without it] become isolated, non-driving, depressed.”

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posted by: anonymous on December 3, 2012  10:53am

Research shows that when seniors lose the ability to drive, they lose more than 50% of their friends. This is a disaster and the cities that adapt best will be the ones that thrive. 

Unfortunately, unlike almost every other part of the nation, Connecticut cities in general are doing virtually nothing to make themselves more accommodating to seniors, for example by building denser housing in the city core, adding transit systems like light rail, and making the streets more walkable.  Massachusetts for example has started a fund to add 10,000 units of housing every year in transit rich areas.

All of New Haven’s and Connecticut’s planners and elected officials are middle aged able bodied folks, virtually all of whom drive everywhere. They simply do not realize what it is like to try to live here as a child, as an elderly person, or as someone with disabilities.  This does not bode well for us.

posted by: PH on December 3, 2012  3:39pm

Sounds like a great concept, I hope it can be as productive for its members as it sounds like it could be!  Improving community ties and caring for people in their homes are goals that are well worth striving for.

posted by: erock on December 3, 2012  8:26pm

I like this idea, but why pay to be neighborly? Someone with a bit of time could just as easily start a phone tree/google doc for “handy man” recommendations. The neighborhood could organize block parties to allow people of all ages to network. $600 a year might be feasible for those with good pensions, but an extra $50 a month might be difficult for some to come up with.

What benefits will this organization provide that a good network of friends and acquaintances won’t?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on December 3, 2012  11:14pm

I love this idea, what a better way for seniors spend their time! and I what I really would like to snuggest is; maybe the high school students can make their community hours interacting and volunteering with this group by helping them with their activities. These youngsters will learn so much from them!!