Where can I turn to get my father some financial and housing assistance?

3 answers | Last updated: Oct 20, 2011
Blackbird asked...

My eighty-year-old grandfather is living in a single wide trailer. When I walked into his house recently I immediately smelled a musty, moldy odor. He's had numerous water leaks, floors have rotted - he actually fell through a hole in his bedroom. When we moved a dresser, I saw black mold on the wall behind it. His living conditions are awful, but no one in the family has the money to help him. Where do I go and who do I talk to to get him some help? He's been in heart failure for years and does well, but the mold really scares me. Plus, when I looked in his kitchen, he has almost no food. Please advise!

Expert Answers

David Green works as a geriatric care manager for the City of Oakland, California. He has more than 20 years' experience addressing the needs of older adults.

It’s always distressing to see evidence that an aging family member is declining. You can use what you’ve observed to begin a conversation with your grandfather with the goal of ensuring his health and safety and maintaining as much independence for him as is possible. Before you can get help for your grandfather, you need to talk to him.

Your conversation with your grandfather should start by sharing your concern about his welfare given the dangerous conditions and lack of food in his trailer. Make sure you ask an essential question: What does he want? Does he want to continue living alone or is he ready to consider other living options?

Your grandfather’s living conditions may have deteriorated because he is physically, mentally, or financially unable to maintain his trailer. You may begin to get a sense of his judgment and ability to participate in solving his own problems as you discuss his situation.

Whatever the outcome of your conversation, your grandfather needs to be assessed by his physician. A physician can perform a brief exam in the office that will establish a baseline for your grandfather’s mental status. She may also identify other areas of concern and make referrals for further assessment.

If your grandfather feels as though you are an ally in the task of improving his quality of life, rather than an adversary trying to take away his independence, he will be less likely to resist your intervention. See if your grandfather will agree for you to accompany him to his doctor and even sign a release of information form so that the doctor can share information about your grandfather’s health with you.

With information you receive from the doctor as well as what you gather in your conversations with your grandfather, you can begin to determine if he can be safe living alone or if he needs a higher level of care. He may be eligible for senior housing near where he lives now. Contact the Area Agency on Aging in your county for housing options (check Caring's local listings to find one near you).  The AAA can also provide information about Meals on Wheels, in home care, and other services that can help seniors maintain independence. If your grandfather needs a higher level of care, Caring Local can also help you search for that.

Your grandfather may be relieved to begin discussions about improving his circumstances. On the other hand, if he is resistant you will need to act. His home needs to be inspected. Mold and mildew can present an immediate and serious threat to his health, and the fact that the floors have rotted means he might suffer a life threatening injury at any time. If he does not agree to work with you to ensure his own health and safety, you can call Adult Protective Services in your county. They can protect your anonymity and intervene if your grandfather’s judgment is impaired and he is unable or unwilling to take appropriate steps.

Your grandfather is fortunate that you have begun looking for answers. The problem may feel overwhelming, but as you investigate the resources available to seniors you too can experience some relief.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

For help with the trailer itself, try contacting the local USDA/Rural Development office about the 504 repair program if your grandfather lives outside a metropolitan area (their programs can only be used in qualifying rural areas), and/or your local city, county, or housing authority as they often have housing repair programs made possible through HUD and other funds. Your local United Way reference line ( usually 211) is a great resource for finding all sorts of assistance, and many of them also have a searchable database on their web page. If your family member is ready to move into another location, and is able to live relatively independently, both USDA/Rural Development and HUD finance affordable housing developments, including senior as well as family properties, where tenants can pay 30% of their income for housing cost (rent and utilities) in a community environment many find they enjoy. To find these properties, go to www.hud.gov and look for rental assistance, privately owned properties -- there is a searchable web tool on this page. For other USDA properties, again, contact your local Rural Development office to find out if there are properties located near you in a non-metro area. Hope this helps!

3generations answered...

If your grandfather is a veteran, he may qualify for help with his living situation and more. There's a wide range of VA benefits, from paid hearing aids to fully-paid nursing homes. There are also specific benefits for in-home assistance with disabilities, which may be available now given your grandfather's on-going heart failure. We didn't realize all the benefits Dad was qualified for until I did some research, because Dad never used the VA system while we were growing up. If your grandfather is a veteran, contact your local or state Veteran's Administration -- or start your research on-line at http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/. Your grandfather is blessed to have you! Good luck!