Funds include housing support for caregivers
An initiative launched last year to find ways to better support the growing population of older residents in the Methow Valley has paid off.
Two grants, totaling $175,000, were awarded recently to strengthen community resources for the aging population in the valley, and to provide housing for caregivers at Jamie’s Place, the valley’s only long-term adult care facility.
The funding is the result of work by the Senior Assessment for Support and Housing (SASH), a coalition of several local nonprofits that came together in early 2021 to analyze the need for support and housing for seniors.
In a report prepared last fall with the help of a consultant, SASH described a rapidly growing aging population in the Methow Valley, with the number of residents aged 65 or older increasing eight times faster than the general population. By 2025, that age group will make up 31% — almost one third — of the valley’s population, the report said.
Three years from now, 200 seniors living at home will need a caregiver. Jamie’s Place, which has 12 beds, has a waiting list of 35 people and the list continues to grow. In the next five years, 28 additional beds will be needed for senior assisted living, SASH found.
The valley faces a crisis in caring for its growing numbers of older residents, largely due to a shortage of caregivers, SASH reported. The caregiver work force shortage is exacerbated in the Methow Valley by the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, and inadequate public transportation.
Long-term care network
A $100,000 grant will formalize the work begun by SASH to identify gaps in services for seniors and find ways to fill them. The grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration will support a new organization called the Methow Valley Community-Based Long-term Care Network.
The grant was awarded to Jamie’s Place, which is one of three primary partners in the new network, along with Methow At Home and Family Health Centers. Other organizations will work as collaborators, including Okanogan Palliative Care, Lookout Coalition, Room One, Methow Housing Trust and TwispWorks.
“The grant is set up to formalize the connection and collaboration with all the teams,” said Rana Clarke, executive director of Jamie’s Place and the director of the new long-term care network. With a structured network in place, social agencies will work to “streamline senior care because it’s now fragmented” among different organizations, Clarke said.
“We want to take the silos of care that are happening right now and make them more efficient and more helpful to the people we’re serving … so we’re working smarter not harder,” she said.
“It’s about the community. We want to make it a place where we can age gracefully, whether at home or at Jamie’s Place,” Clarke said.
The network’s focus is “creating and sustaining community-based long-term care services, facilities and supports,” according to the grant description. Among its objectives, said Clarke, are developing and supporting a caregiver network; creating new housing options for seniors such as home-sharing; and offering fall-prevention programs for seniors living at home.
“We will be looking at all the different things that help or hinder a person’s ability to stay at home or receive care without falling through the cracks,” Clarke said. The network will hold its first meeting this month to set goals and develop an action plan, she said.
Jamie’s Place is also the recipient of a “Game Changer” grant of $75,000 from the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington. The grant will allow Jamie’s Place to purchase two tiny homes to provide low-cost housing for caregivers unable to find affordable housing in the valley, with the goal of alleviating the facility’s staffing problems.
“Our caregivers are priced out of the housing market. There basically is no rental market except for vacation rentals,” Clarke said. “Unfortunately, unlike some operations we can’t shorten our hours or staff. To take care of elders, we have to be staffed.”
Three of the caregivers at Jamie’s Place currently share a single-wide mobile home, Clarke said. Another caregiver “basically couch surfs, does a lot of house-sitting,” and another lives in a RV without running water. “She lived that way throughout the winter, and she’s 70 years old,” Clarke said. Another caregiver who commuted from her home in Omak recently quit after her gas costs hit $600 per month, Clarke said.
In ongoing discussions about the housing problem, Clarke said, “we had joked about getting some tiny homes and putting them on Jamie’s Place.” Jamie’s Place representatives attended a Winthrop Council meeting earlier this year to talk about the caregiver staffing issue and inquired whether tiny houses would be permitted on Jamie’s Place property under the town’s zoning codes. “They said, ‘We will work with you,’” Clarke said.
Then the Community Fund announced its new “Game Changer” grants, intended to address pressing community needs. “We thought, “That’s it. We’re going to put two tiny homes on Jamie’s Place property,’” Clarke said.
With $65,000 from the Game Changer grant as a down payment, Jamie’s Place plans to purchase two tiny homes and install them on Jamie’s Place property. The grant will allow the rent to be set at $500-$600 per month, well below market rates, Clarke said.
The project will cost $190,000-$240,000 for the two homes, and Clarke said the goal is to have them in place by winter.
The tiny home approach may be a model for other businesses and organizations — including local government — that face employee shortages due to lack of affordable housing in the Methow Valley, Clarke said. “We look at it as transitional housing — a bridge to a longer term solution.”
Among the SASH report’s recommendation is expansion of Jamie’s Place by 20 beds over the next nine years. Any expansion will include affordable housing units for caregivers, Clarke said. Jamie’s Place will probably take a short-term loan for the tiny house project, and will fundraise for the planned expansion.
The Game Changer grant will also provide $10,000 to launch a program called Silvernest in collaboration with Methow At Home, Clarke said. Silvernest is a home sharing site for older adults that provides screening and background checks to match people interested in sharing their homes with a compatible roommate. The arrangement can provide financial and social benefits for homeowners and roommates. The grant will support a one-year pilot program for Silvernest in the Methow Valley.