One senior ekes out a way of life.
Thursday, March 5, 1998
Dorothy Chaires has been on and off welfare her entire life. Born in Watsonville to a mother who worked in the fish canneries on Cannery Row, Chaires grew up in Seaside and worked for years in housecleaning, fish-packing and health care. After tearing ligaments in her arm two years ago while lifting a patient, Chaires quit her job as a certified nurse''s aide and went on permanent disability. She now lives in a tidy two-room apartment in Seaside, where she pays $325- a-month rent out of her $650 monthly SSI check.
Chaires'' luck hasn''t been good. She''s been married five times. One husband broke her leg--he was aiming for her face. Her last husband, a Mexican national, married her for his immigration visa, and then left town. She has two grown sons nearby--good boys, she says, who work hard--and a third son who is in and out of prison on various drug charges.
She''s not healthy, either. Arthritis kept her from ringing the Salvation Army bell last Christmas outside KMart, as she used to do. She has serious asthma, heart trouble, blood problems and a host of other ailments. But her spirits are good, and she''s proud of her spic-and-span little apartment, which she repainted and re-carpeted herself when she moved in two years ago.
She had been homeless for several years prior to that, before the apartment''s previous tenant, an elderly blind woman, took her on as an in-home companion. When the woman died, Chaires "inherited" the apartment. "I had nothing and nowhere to go when I came here," she says. "I''ve worked my way up."
Chaires enumerates last month''s bills: $325 for rent, $27 for PG&E, $13 for the phone, $20 for laundry, and $23 for burial insurance. She buys much of her food, and goes to local churches and the Salvation Army for some meals. "Mostly I go for the company, ''cause I get pretty lonely," she says. "I''ve gone to the Fairgrounds for [holiday] meals. They''re pretty good. And I go over to St. Vincent de Paul''s [Church]. The only one I haven''t been to yet is the church on Hilby Ave."
During her long days alone in the apartment, Chaires enjoys painting wooden birdhouses. A friend builds them for her, and she paints and decorates them with tiny silk birds and flowers. She hopes to sell some at a local craft fair. "Do you think I could get $10 for this?" she asks hopefully, showing off a pretty light blue birdhouse, which she has painstakingly decorated by hand.
Like many other recipients of Salvation Army aid, Chaires tries to give back to those less well-off than she. Last Christmas, she volunteered for the organization''s "Xmas Cheer" program, and offered to house a homeless woman who was living on Del Monte beach. "She told them she preferred to stay on the beach," Chaires says, with a shrug. Another homeless woman accepted Chaires'' offer, and then refused to share expenses. But Chaires isn''t bitter. "I don''t care what someone''s done to me, I''ll still watch out for them," she declares stubbornly.
Chaires looks out for her sister-in-law, who is having trouble meeting expenses in Marina, and for other neighbors in her low-rent apartment complex. Her front door stands unlocked during the day, and friends come and go, joining her for coffee at her cheerful living room table.
She doesn''t worry too much about the future. "I don''t want to go into a convalescent home," she says firmly. "I''m sure my kids will take me in. For now, I''m glad I have this place. There''s no way I would have made it otherwise."