Villa Maria

Five Minutes Was Enough — The Story of WJ

WJ planned his move to Mercy Housing’s Villa Maria Homes, a beautiful community of senior homes in Westminster, Colorado. He was nervous, worrying about every possible outcome — this was a big first for him. He had experienced an extended period of homelessness and had been living in a long-term shelter, but he had to move once again because it wasn’t possible for him to stay there permanently.

Thankfully Larry, WJ’s caseworker, worked with him on an application to live at Villa Maria, and he was accepted. Larry worked with WJ on every step of his move, and he didn’t want Larry to leave his side. After years of experiencing homelessness, he was worried: would he be able to get food or go to the store, would he get lost, and what about money? WJ had been refusing to eat or get out of bed for several months before his move.

On the big day of the move, Larry brought WJ to Villa Maria in his car. On the way, they stopped at the grocery store. That’s when Larry discovered that WJ did not know how to check out in the grocery store — he had never had to do these things, saying that his wife had taken on these responsibilities, but had died years ago. WJ arrived at Villa Maria with all his belongings in a small carry-on size suitcase. He had no furnishings for his apartment. Then WJ met Bonnie, the Resident Service Coordinator at Villa Maria — “I had worked throughout the day to locate a bed and furniture for WJ. I gathered pots and pans, dishes, hygiene items, towels and all of the basics WJ needed for simple comfort in his own apartment.”

After arriving, WJ sat in the community room while his caseworker brought his personal items to his new apartment. WJ told some of the ladies in the room, other residents, that he was worried about shopping and navigating busses. He told them he was worried about getting lost. They assured him that they would go with him on the Shopping Bus and that they would bring him home. They promised him, “We won’t lose you.” WJ then happily informed Larry the ladies would take him shopping and he could get his own food now.

“I have my own cold milk in my own refrigerator and pastries to eat!”WJ appeared to be struggling with rising from his chair in the community room, so Larry brought him upstairs in a wheelchair. When they entered his apartment, WJ looked around. He said proudly, “I have my own cold milk in my own refrigerator and pastries to eat!” Bonnie talked with WJ about the many services and programs available at Villa Maria he could expect there. WJ told Larry, “You can leave. Bonnie will take care of me now. She knows about shopping, busses, haircuts and other stuff.”

WJ still could not rise from his chair, feeling very ill. Bonnie explained to him that at Villa Maria they had a protocol that said she must call paramedics to assess him because there would be no one there to call overnight if he needed help. WJ asked if he would lose his apartment if he left for the hospital. She assured him that the apartment was his and possible hospitalization would help to improve his living situation at Villa Maria rather than harm it.

“The paramedics came and, with considerable care and compassion, convinced WJ that he should go to the hospital. Both of his caseworkers, the old and the new, were there with him. Our [Mercy Housing] Property Manager was there. The ladies, ‘who wouldn’t lose him at the store,’ were in the lobby standing by. As WJ was lifted into the ambulance, he was surrounded by caring hearts. WJ went into crisis in the ambulance. He made it to the hospital but gently passed away a few days later. WJ had no emergency contact. We knew of no personal friends. We could find no information on next of kin. As the Service Coordinator, I worked with the funeral home, the medical facility, the county, and the VA to arrange a funeral,” Bonnie said.

On June 15, 2017, WJ was laid to rest at Fort Logan Military Cemetery with two people in attendance: his caseworker, Larry, and Resident Service Coordinator, Bonnie. WJ was only in his apartment for five minutes before his emergency, but it was long enough for him to feel a sense of home. No one at Mercy Housing will ever forget the man who was so proud of having his own cold milk in his own refrigerator.

If it weren’t for supporters like you, we wouldn’t be able to provide homes to people like WJ. We thank you for taking the time and resources to foster strong and beautiful communities where Resident Service Coordinators like Bonnie are helping those that need it most.

In memory of WJ,
January 31, 1945 – May 9, 2017