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When seniors are priced out, they end up warehoused on Aurora

caption: Victoria Marshall is one of hundreds of seniors who live in subsidized senior housing just off Aurora. She has a view of the lake, but says she feels profoundly disconnected from civic and cultural life.
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1 of 4 Victoria Marshall is one of hundreds of seniors who live in subsidized senior housing just off Aurora. She has a view of the lake, but says she feels profoundly disconnected from civic and cultural life.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Victoria Marshall was born in 1945, and she’s full of stories. She can talk about the four years she was homeless, about raising kids, or about her deep knowledge of animals, which she sometimes shares with people at the zoo.

Marshall used to live on Capitol Hill, right in the heart of Seattle. But now she lives on the far northern edge of the city. “Seniors are being pushed away from daily life," said Marshall. "So if someone wants wisdom from old people, they’re not gonna get it. Because we’re out here, all alone, isolated from the community.”

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It’s harder for seniors to stay in their homes in Seattle than it is in many other parts of the country. Many seniors are being forced out by rising rents and property taxes.

A lot of seniors end up in large apartment buildings along the old highway 99. Marshall described her neighborhood just off Aurora Avenue North as a kind of senior ghetto.

“We have to make an extra effort, on our parts, to go be part of a community," she said. "And sometimes, that’s a problem. Because we’re not always well, we don’t always have money to travel, or the time to do so. I don’t know. It just feels really isolated.”

Not everyone in Marshall's neighborhood feels so alone. But many do, and awareness of the problem is growing. That’s why SHAG, a senior housing development group, hired Mohammed Egal as a Resident Services Coordinator. His job is to help seniors connect to their communities.

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“The more active you stay, the more engaged you stay, the more you enjoy your life,” Egal said.

SHAG’s newest development project is in Tukwila. It’s right down the street from Foster High School, one of the most diverse high schools in the state. Foster has a large immigrant population, and many students are still learning to speak and read in English.

Every day after school, many of these students pass by the senior housing. “They usually walk to the library to do their homework. And that’s our building, across the street,” said Egal, pointing at the buildings less than 400 feet away.

The development's location will allow seniors to mentor students at the high school. “And mentoring is everything," said Egal. "Someone is sharing with you their lifetime of experience while you are 16 and 17.”

Egal should know, too. As a Somali American, he had a mentor who helped him with his English when he was younger.

SHAG has always tried to connect its seniors with activities. But their Tukwila apartments are located right in the middle of a community that could benefit from the time and wisdom that these seniors have to share.

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I attended a luncheon for future residents of the new senior apartments going up in Tukwila.

That’s where I met Joyce Fabre. “Where I did live, it was too much money,” Fabre told me. But it wasn’t just the money. Life changes also drove her here. “I raised a grandchild, and when he left, I said, ‘Oh, no. Now I’m all by myself.’”

Now, she's optimistic about her future. Fabre has a lifetime of experience, and she plans to make use of it in Tukwila. “I taught school for a while," said Fabre, who plans to volunteer in the schools. "Anything I can do to help the community.”

These community-building efforts may work out well for Tukwila. But there’s a cost to the city of Seattle if it continues to lose its seniors.

Victoria Marshall offered this story as an illustration: “You might have noticed I’m not wearing my dentures," she said. "I got them recently, I don't like wearing them. I can't stand them."

One day, at the zoo, a kid looked at her and said, “‘No teeth!’"

“And I went, ‘yeah,’ and that was the end of it. But," she continued, "Kids don’t get to see old, sick, toothless adults. The only toothless people they get to see are other kids! They don’t know anything about what it’s like to get old. And that’s part of what you need to learn when you’re growing up.”

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