On July 14, 2016, Janet James and her staff, Juan, Rose and Gazelle, celebrated three decades of serving residents at Eskaton Hazel Shirley Manor. Eighty residents joined the festivities enjoying Thai cuisine and dancing. A photo of Hazel Shirley, the building's name sake, proudly hangs in the lobby of the community.
Thirty years ago Eskaton Hazel Shirley Manor, an affordable housing apartment building, opened in El Cerrito, California. It took 13 years of planning to build the 63-unit, four story complex for seniors. The Manor was dedicated to Hazel Shirley, a retired nurse and musician originally from Independence, Missouri. Hazel was the Chair of the El Cerrito Committee on Aging and sat on the Manor’s Board of Directors. She was very passionate about senior housing and was familiar with the stress of facing eviction due to being on a limited income. She was personally affected by a1986 delay in Social Security checks, and as her health declined she eventually moved into a board and care.
When the building was dedicated to Hazel in 1986, there were 150 teary eyed onlookers. “She was a lady who never stopped trying,” said one person. “She was an unrelenting advocate.” Read Hazel's biography.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” said one of the first residents to move in. Three-hundred applications were requested and 200 low-income seniors entered in the lottery, which indicated the critical need for affordable, senior housing.
Today, there is a larger than ever group of aging citizens who need access to affordable and safe housing. It is apparent that more Hazel Shirleys are needed to advocate for seniors and accomplish important objectives. But hopefully, as long as our legislators are on board, it won’t take a decade of planning to open just one building. Eskaton continues to put efforts towards finding new, innovative ways to add more affordable housing to the 1,000 apartments it manages in Northern California.
Because of donors and philanthropic partners, Eskaton Foundation serves low income seniors through the Telephone Reassurance Program, Transportation Plus, and the Resident Care Fund. To donate or volunteer, visit http://www.eskaton.org/foundation/ or call 866-eskaton.