Critical Difference: A Healthy Ministry Perspective on the Senior Housing Crisis in Detroit

Note: This is the second part of an essay written by Kathleen Ruth, who is the Faith Community Nurse for St. Aloysius Catholic Church located in Downtown Detroit. St. Aloysius has been an active partner in the Senior Housing and Displacement Coalition.

By Kathleen Ruth, MSN, RN, APHN-BC

I called Paul Novak, an attorney with Milberg LLP in Detroit and member of the St. Aloysius congregation to help with advocating on behalf of residents being relocated from the Griswold Building. Paul and his staff attorneys focused on the issue (pro bono). They met with about thirty residents and took their and my affidavits which were more than enough to bring about a “Verified Complaint for Injunctive Relief” against Griswold Apartments—we were heading to court! On the same day that Paul and petitioners were going to file their complaint in court, the City of Detroit placed a “Cease and Desist” order on the office window of the contractors—all contract work had to stop! Paul Novak, his staff attorneys, the elderly residents, and St. Aloysius made a critical difference!

To identify the actions needed to be completed by the Owner to address the whole health needs of the elderly residents, Paul Novak, his staff attorneys, two Griswold residents, a construction manager, the Owner’s representative, and I met. After all was said, the Owner’s representative imparted, “This has humbled me. If we had only known all this was going to happen, we would have done things differently.” I had the opportunity to say to him, “I hear you say that you are humbled and you would have done things differently. As you know, there are several Section 8 apartment buildings in Downtown Detroit; chances are when their contracts with HUD expire (or maybe even before) they will be sold. If what you say is true, will you be a champion for the poor elderly in Downtown Detroit? Will you make sure that the elderly are heard and let them be part of the renewal of Detroit?” He had no reply.

During the process, St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services joined with several other groups to form a Senior Coalition to address moving issues. Our review of the Brownfield Contract for Griswold discovered many items that the Owner was responsible for paying. One of the coalition partners confirmed these items with the Owner. We were then able to give complete and accurate information on the costs that the owner would pay associated with moving. This helped to alleviate anxiety on the part of the elderly residents. We will continue to participate with the Senior Coalition in an effort to influence future building acquisitions and developments.

It is the hope of Neighborhood Services of St. Aloysius that our elderly neighbors in Downtown Detroit, who have their homes in Section 8 apartments, will not experience the heartbreak of the Griswold departure. We have taken action to make a critical difference. Through Wayne State University School of Social Work and the College of Nursing, the former residents of Griswold are participating in research that studies the effects of unplanned relocation stress. Again, it is our hope that the research findings will convince Detroit City Planners and potential investors to include the poor elderly in the social and community renewal of Downtown Detroit so that all can be aboard the Downtown Detroit renewal train.

For our brothers and sisters who have moved, I have their new contact information. They are at the heart of our concern and I will continue to stay in touch as they learn to adjust in their new homes. As always, keep them in your prayers. One more thought, is there a way for you to make a critical difference?

 “There was a father, mother and their children and a grandfather.

This grandfather got his face dirty when he ate soup which annoyed

the father so he bought a separate table for the grandfather to eat at.

But one day the father returned home and saw one of his children

playing with bits of wood and on asking his son what he was doing

was told that he was building a table for Daddy to eat at when he

became old.”

–  Pope Francis, Nov. 19, 2013