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Opinion: A Family’s Dedication to Service Supports Affordable Senior Housing in San Diego

OpinionOpinion: A Family’s Dedication to Service Supports Affordable Senior Housing in San Diego

Senior housingThe Harris Family Senior Residence in City Heights nears completion.

The housing affordability crisis in San Diego County makes America’s Finest City a nearly impossible place to find a home, especially if you are unhoused or on the verge of homelessness.

It’s why San Diego has the fifth highest homeless population in the United States. And one in four of them are older adults over age 50.

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Even when funding is available to construct affordable housing, neighbors often push back due to unfounded fears about density, property values, or even crime.

So when a project manages to make it to completion, it is a cause for celebration. Serving Seniors is eagerly awaiting the official completion of the new Harris Family Senior Residence in City Heights. The name was unveiled during an event at the project on Aug. 18.

The 117 senior housing units are fully leased. New residents are anticipated to move into the building at Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard in October.

The building is being named in honor of the Harris family, whose contributions to Serving Seniors began with the late Howard and Iris Harris. The Harris family, including Jerry Harris, brother Richard Harris, and their three siblings, grew up in City Heights, attending Crawford High School.

Jerry still owns a business in the community. “I see a real continuity,” he said. “We’ve been in that neighborhood for a long time.”

I was one of their childhood neighbors down the street. I reconnected with Jerry as an adult.

Successful thanks to multiple business interests, the Harris family began donating regularly to our Serving Seniors programs. Family members regularly volunteer and serve meals at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, including niece Cori Harris, who would accompany her grandparents as a young girl.

“When you’re 10 years old, you don’t necessarily think of it as service. You’re just spending time with the family. It instilled in us how important service in the community is,” said Cori. “When I went away to college, it was something that I really, truly missed. I looked forward when I came home to going to Serving Seniors around the holidays and hanging out with my family and tying those two things together.”

Now Cori has joined with her uncles Jerry and Richard in representing the Harris Family name as part of the City Heights facility’s new identity.

The Harris family acknowledges the many challenges with affordable housing in San Diego. “As a family, we’re very proud that we can help move in the right direction to resolve some of the issues, even if it’s just for 100 people, because it really makes a difference in their lives,” explained Jerry.

He said his entire family hopes the new Harris Family Residence will encourage other San Diego neighborhoods to embrace quality inclusive housing.

“Just because a person is poor doesn’t make them any lesser than other people. It’s nothing for those neighbors to fear. The way Serving Seniors develops its communities and the kinds of activities they do, it’s an asset to any community they want to move into. I’m hoping other communities will start embracing these projects because it’s necessary,” said Jerry.

“When I’m choosing to give money to any philanthropy, the first thing I want to do, I want to know is that they’re using my money to a good end,” he added. “I like local organizations that are providing direct services to people so that I know that my money is getting directly into the hands of the people who really need it.

“Serving Seniors is a San Diego nonprofit that works directly with people who need it. They feed the people, they house the people, they provide counseling and medical services, they are leaders in the field. They can take care of all the seniors’ needs in one place.”

The four Harris brothers (David, Jerry, Richard and Mike) and one sister (Sally) are long-time donors to Serving Seniors, including making previous naming gifts at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center. Their lifetime contributions, and COVID-19 facilitated funding will be used to support Serving Seniors mission: to help seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Paul Downey is CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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