A safe house for elder abuse victims? Fresno non-profit says there’s a need

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Elderly people being abused physically and financially. Some neglected and even abandoned. They could be your loved ones. Advocates of victims say the issue is prevalent in the Valley and a safe house for seniors could make an impact.

KSEE 24 went to Sacramento where there is a shelter for elder abuse victims. It is the model for one organization in Fresno. The issue is finding the funding for a project like this. Meanwhile, Americans are living longer which means more potential victims of abuse.

“All I wanna do is go home and take care of myself and live the rest of my life in peace and harmony,” said “Katherine”.

“Katherine” doesn’t want her identity released. She says her own daughter physically attacked her after an argument at home.

“And she was in front of me and she pushed me as hard as she could down backwards,” said “Katherine”.

Now she is recovering from a serious injury to her arm. She says her daughter has hurt her more than once.

“We know violence always escalates until it is stopped and she’s had no repercussions,” said “Katherine”.

81-year-old Julius Ortiz says he felt helpless after he says one of his former tenants allegedly lit his home on fire.

“I know it was arson because he was standing right in front of the fire. Why didn’t he call 911 like I asked him to?,” said Ortiz.

Needing shelter and safety, “Katherine” and Ortiz turned to the Senior Safe House in Sacramento.

“You would have no idea it’s a safe house,” said Christie Holderegger.

Holderegger is the Vice President of Volunteers of America in Northern California and Northern Nevada. The VOA operates a six-bedroom house. A safe haven for seniors who have been abused, neglected or exploited. Fueled by a  small staff and reliant on volunteers.

“We really have to depend on the volunteers to help because there’s just not enough funding to fund this as if it was fully staffed,” said Holderegger.

The Safe House works with Adult Protective Services to help a large number of seniors in need. But what about victims here in the Central Valley? Dr. John Dussich is the founder of Elder Abuse Services, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Fresno, aiming to replicate Sacramento’s Senior Safe House.

“I think the elders in Fresno deserve something that is available,” said Dussich.

Dussich stresses the importance of a facility here in Fresno by taking a look at history. He says the post World War II baby boom is the cause for more vulnerable seniors.

“And those folks are now becoming elder citizens and so the increase in the number of elders increases also the number of abuse,” said Dussich.

Dussich says many elderly victims are taken advantage of by their own children.

“The classic situation is that it’s a family member typically, the oldest son who is abusing his mother. His father’s already passed on, she’s very vulnerable. She would like to be taken care of by a family member and tragically that’s the family member who usually coerces her into signing over the house, the car, the bank account and then she neglected and dies earlier than she should,” said Dussich.

Julius Ortiz spent several days in a motel before finding the Safe House and he’s thankful he did.

“This place saved my life as far as I’m concerned cause I was very depressed,” said Ortiz.

“Katherine” is optimistic about returning to her home but says she won’t be opening it back up to her daughter.
 
“That door is shut forever,” said “Katherine”.

EASI doesn’t just want to copy the model in Sacramento. Dr. Dussich says restorative justice is a component that needs to be added. Restoring the relationship between victims and abusers and providing legal representation.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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