Book of Dreams

Ensuring that seniors are safe at home is nonprofit’s goal

Gerry Brown holds her dog, Abby, while David Grantham of Rebuilding Together Sacramento installs a new fire detector in her Sacramento home.
Gerry Brown holds her dog, Abby, while David Grantham of Rebuilding Together Sacramento installs a new fire detector in her Sacramento home. aseng@sacbee.com

Editor’s note: For nearly 30 years, The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams.

The biggest barrier to aging in place isn’t money, meddlesome adult children or faulty memory, although the last one can lead to kitchen fires in seniors’ homes. No, it’s a simple slip, a fall that breaks bones or a hip.

And it’s avoidable, said David Grantham, program director of Safe at Home, a part of Rebuilding Together Sacramento. RTS is small nonprofit that preserves provides free home repairs for low-income homeowners.

“People just don’t focus on seniors,” he said, and with the baby boomers getting up in years, that’s a growing problem. “We want to help those in need.”

Safe at Home volunteers go out on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make repairs and install a variety of safety features in low-income homes: railings, grab bars and wheelchair ramps, and work on making the home more energy-efficient so the homeowners don’t waste their limited income on high electric or gas bills.

Two of the items they need to install in all homes – and are especially useful in the Sacramento area where 57 percent of homes are more than 30 years old, and many of those have wood-shingle roofs – are smoke and fire detectors and carbon-monoxide alarms. These need to be replaced every 10 years. And “because many falls involve ladders,” Grantham said, Safe at Home wants to ensure that all low-income seniors that remain in their home have a working set of these detectors installed.

“An important part of our service is interacting with the homeowner, many of whom live alone and some who are unable to get out and socialize,” Grantham said. “Our volunteers talk with homeowner first and assess whether the homeowner can do the job himself under their supervision, or if they want, the homeowners can just watch us do it, or don’t even have to be in the room when it’s done.”

A 2014 report by the U.S. Fire Administration noted that older adults:

▪ Represent 14 percent of the U.S. population but suffer more than a third of all fire deaths.

▪ Have 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a fire than the total population.

▪ Are 3.6 times more likely, after age 85, to die in a fire than the total population.

RTS works on almost 350 homes each year.

“We’re proud of that number, but we want to do more. We want to reach out to social service agencies to identify more seniors who can use our services before they suffer a fall, and reach out to hospitals and nursing homes to ensure that seniors who have fallen and injured themselves have a safe house to come home to.”

Although most of the Safe at Home volunteers, many of them seniors and retirees, have worked with the program for a half-dozen years or more, Grantham said RTS could always use more volunteers.

“You don’t even have to have do-it-yourself skills; we provide the training,” he said. The installers “are a mixed bag: Some have worked in construction, others have never picked up a hammer before going through the training,” he said.

All Book of Dreams donations are tax-deductible, and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs.

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The request

Needed: 100 smoke/fire detectors and 100 carbon-monoxide detectors

Cost: $3,300

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