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Independent Living: A Sanctuary for Senior Citizens Not Welcomed by Neighbors

WINNETKA, CA – Independent living homes are a sanctuary for some senior citizens who were once homeless. However, one of these homes in Winnetka has neighbors opposing it. The home operator, Paulette Moses, said neighbors colluded with the Los Angeles Fire Department to harass her, though she has no direct proof. Moses owns several independent living spaces and remembers the day when the Fire Department came to her suburban home with a search warrant accusing her of elder abuse.

Photo, Andrea Esparza

Early one October morning a resident with a history of stomach problems was discovered ill by a caregiver who called paramedics. When paramedics and the fire department arrived, they said they found a few bug bites on the resident and they assumed there was a bed bug infestation. Moses said those allegations were false.

“They checked my house and wrote a report saying my house was infested with bed bugs and my house had hazardous wiring and my house was in terrible condition, but none of this was true," said Moses.

A Search Warrant was issued for Moses’s home there was no evidence of elder abuse. The Environmental Department of Health did discover a single bed bug shell in a resident’s bed. Paulette explained to officials that this resident enjoyed going on walks and collecting objects from the street and most likely brought the bug into the home. Since bed bugs were not found in any of the other resident bed, The Environmental Department of health dismissed the allegations.

The fire department further evaluated Moses’ home and gave her a list of three things to correct in order for the home to be deemed safe. Moses fixed the problems and she hoped that this would be the last time an issue of this magnitude occurred. She was wrong.

A few months later the fire department filed a lawsuit against Moses and 45 other independent living facilities for violating safety protocols. Moses provided evidence of the three minor adjustments to her home, which was required by the Fire Department. The case settled, but Moses still had to pay $3,500 in fees.

Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Kristen Crowley told The Los Angeles Times that the LAFD has the jurisdiction to enforce safety and occupancy laws when a home has six or more people living there and who are given meals and personal care. However independent living spaces fall into a gray area of zoning and licensing laws that makes regulation difficult. The California building code does not consider a home with less than 6 people a facility, meaning regulation in terms of structures and safety codes do not apply. Although Moses provides meals and personal care her residents are considered a family unit. This is where the complications began with the Los Angeles Fire department.

Moses said the fire department continues to make surprise visits to her Winnetka independent living home. She said fire officials claim she still needs to be adjustments to the home in order to make it safer. Moses said she is frustrated. She said already made all the adjustments requested by the fire department to her home, but the fire officials keep showing up at her doorstep.

“I think There’s something wrong with fire department. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I honestly think it had to do with the neighbors. They don’t like having disabled people in their neighborhoods, so they complain to city council, but they can’t do much, so they report it to the fire department and that’s when the harassment starts,” said Moses.

Independent living spaces provide senior citizens who were once homeless a safe place to live, but some of the residents also suffer from addictions and mental health issues.

Josafat Florian, who lives directly across the street from Moses’s Winnetka home, supports her efforts, but he is concerned for his safety and the noise. He said before Moses Bought the home the street was peaceful, but now the street is rattled with yelling.

Moses said that since some her of residents are disabled, they may have chaotic episodes. She believes her neighbors lack compassion, but Florian said he wants to be able to enjoy quite time at home.

He said residents have run away from the home and have caused disruptions throughout the neighborhood.

“When they run away from and are not monitored that is when it becomes an issue. There was lady who would scream really loud and knock on our doors. We don’t know who these people are they could be dangerous or have a weapon.” said Florian.

Paulette Moses is aware of these past issues and said she has tried her best to ensure that her residents are supervised.

“I know the neighbors don’t like seeing disabled people in their neighborhood, so I have them hang in the back yard as much as possible to prevent the fire department from showing up to control the residents.” said Moses.

“As long as they keep the noise down and the people monitored, I am good with that. I know Paulette is a nice lady.” said Florian.

Paulette Moses owns seven affordable living spaces in the San Fernando Valley housing 49 residents. She said her work has changed the lives of many people, including retired professional Boxer Alex Ramos -- also known as The Box Bomber. He Suffered a severe brain injury late in his career and he succumbed to the world of addition and homelessness.

“Without Paulette I don’t know where I would be…I was living out of a car and it is hard to believe I was once making so much money and now I have no place to live. It is terrible, but here I am safe. I have a family now. I met new people, have a nice bed, food everything, it is such a great place and most importantly I am safe.” said Ramos.

Meanwhile, Moses said she wants to continue operating with her independent living spaces without being harassed. Since her case was dismissed along with the accusation of elder abuse she now wants to work with city officials to get licenses for her facilities.

“I am having meetings with officials in next few months to create some kind of licensure for my homes. I hope this will stop the harassment from the Fire Department. I am hoping for the best because without this facility my residents would be living on the streets with no support.” said Moses.

Video, ABC10

Video, Andrea Esparza

Audio, Andrea Esparza

By Andrea Esparza

With contributions from Los Angeles Times, UpCodes

Photo, Andrea Esparza

Video, ABC10

Video, Andrea Esparza

Audio, Andrea Esparza


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