How to Survive Senior Housing

A problem I hear over and over again is from residents of low-income senior housing complexes, the only kind we have locally. “I can’t stand my building/complex. Everyone here is a gossip!” I’ve had people holed up in their apartments because of a bully who hangs out in the courtyard at one complex. I’ve even been accosted myself for visiting there.

The senior housing complexes here all seem to work the same way socially. Some of the residents act like they are 78 going on 14. But people take apartments in these places because of  the subsidy.  Without much money, resources, social connections or activities, their options seem very limited.  Out of boredom, they work with what they have: one another.

Why be in senior housing?

First of all, let’s get back to basics. The reason to live in subsidized senior housing is to take advantage of the low rent on a small but maintained apartment with some amenities. It’s just housing, folks. It comes at a good price.  They’re often better than what one can afford on the open market.

Some have monthly birthday parties, shopping outings, and other events for residents. Some don’t.  But it is expensive to move to another place.  The same thing might be going on there too.  Your complex does not have to be your whole world.

Explore outside the complex.

If you don’t have a car, check for buses, taxis and other transportation options. Many of these complexes are on bus routes.  Senior bus services may also provide low-cost rides. Check on monthly passes for metropolitan public transportation. Your manager can help you connect with rides so you can shop, get to the doctor, or just get out.

Give them something to talk about.

Walk outside the complex. The exercise will be good for you. This also gets you out among people beyond the cliques that bother you. You can bring a dog along as an icebreaker if you have access to one. It’s a great way to meet people.

Go to the library if there’s one around. Browse the books, use a computer if you don’t have one at home. See what activities the library hosts–they often have book groups that may pique your interest. While you’re there, see what else they have. Some lend out audio books.  They are great if you enjoy stories and do crafts.

Look around for other events in town that appeal to you. If you like music, watch for concerts.  If you have to save up, do it. You deserve a nice evening out. Go to a church supper. They don’t cost as much as a restaurant dinner.  All kinds of people go to them.

Make your own in-crowd.

Pursue interests that you have. Join up with a group that shares your interest.  Get to meetings. At first it might take some doing but later on, as you get to know people there, you might be able to get a ride with one of them. This will work for anything from hiking to quilting and in between.

Find a coffee spot, where people congregate, and chat people up. Sometimes you meet interesting characters that way. I know several people who have made a routine of checking in for coffee to have new people to talk to. In coffee spots I have met everyone from a silver prospector to a monument cleaner.  Who knows?  You might meet a neighbor and hit it off.

Find things to do at home.

Boredom is your enemy.  Fight with everything you’ve got.  Perhaps you have a ton of pictures from years of life.  Get scrapbook supplies at a dollar store.  Put family albums together for the kids or grandkids.  Don’t forget to put people’s names in.  Looking at a lot of strangers isn’t fun.  Plus, it could be important to a daughter who suddenly gets into genealogy.

Like color?  Grab a couple of adult coloring books and some colored pencils or pens and get to work. These are challenging pictures, not Mickey Mouse at all.  Invite a friend over to color with you.  Who knows?  You may awaken an artist who’s been lurking inside.

Pursue hobbies that you haven’t had much time for till now.  If you’re a cook, pop on a TV or Internet cooking show and get inspired.  Become the world’s greatest living authority on how to cook great food for one or two.  Share judiciously.  Put a batch of cookies on the table in the common room or near the mailboxes.

Do you like to make things?  Prowl thrift stores for  materials.  Grab sweaters and unravel them for yarn.  Cut them up and felt the pieces to make slippers.  Make patchwork or doll clothes of old shirts and dresses.  Decorate Mason jars any way you want, and make them useful.

See if there’s a senior volunteer program that uses crafters.  One in our region supplies yarn to knitters to make wash cloths for the homeless.  Money does not have to be a barrier.  You may even sell some of your creations.  Especially at the holiday season, craft fairs and bake sales pop up everywhere, sometimes even in senior housing places.

Keep up with family and friends.  If you have an Internet device, use social media to share news and thoughts.  If not, make sure to call your people regularly, or write them if you prefer.  Tuck a picture or two in for fun.  My father used to write my cousin about family history since she was investigating it.  Just because you are not physically close to your loved ones doesn’t mean you aren’t in their lives.

What about the difficult people?

Some people seem to invite you to yell at them with their provocative behaviors.  It probably won’t do you much good to do that, though.  They are over 7 years old and pretty set in their ways.  It’s good policy to be pleasant to everyone when spoken to.  You don’t have to be everyone’s friend.  You don’t have to initiate contact.

Most of the people you may find are just lonely and bored and maybe not well.  They  just do what others do to fit into something.  Maybe they would rather color but they don’t know that yet.  If they show an interest in you, it won’t hurt to be receptive.  There could be a friend in it for you.

And you certainly don’t have to feed attention to a bully.  Just switch off and say good-bye when s/he starts in.  Keep your distance from him or her and stay safe.  If you feel threatened tell your manager or social worker and the police.  The manager can worry about the place’s reputation; you need to take care of yourself.

Most of all, remember that you are in charge of how you feel.  You might as well help yourself feel good.  Maybe you will become an example to others around you.  So why not bake some cookies?

Have you had a tough time  with the other residents where you live?  What have you found that works?

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