NOVATO (KPIX 5) — Thousands of people in the Bay Area struggled to cope with the power outages over the weekend, but one group of vulnerable Novato residents say they were left alone in the dark.
“People were pretty much sequestered in their apartments,” said one person.
“I felt trapped,” admitted another.
“You’re just cooped up here like in prison and you can’t go anywhere. You can’t see anything,” said a third.
These are the comments from people living at the Villas at Hamilton, a three-building affordable senior apartment complex in the Hamilton Field area of Novato. It is an independent living environment, but when the lights went out last Saturday night, the elderly residents here say they were totally on their own.
“We needed help right away and we were abandoned. We were totally abandoned,” said Jeanette Louthan, who lives at the Villas and is a care-giver to several of the residents.
She said battery-powered hall lights soon died, leaving the corridors and staircases pitch black, while the elevators were non-operational.
“We were guiding people down and they were holding on the handles if they could or holding with their bodies and then we had to take down their walkers as well,” Louthan said.
One resident reportedly hurt her knee tripping in the dark over another woman who was lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
“It was…it basically felt like an abandoned building,” said Marie Hoch, who heads up a local homeowners association and was called to the Villas by one of the residents.
Hoch said she was shocked by what she saw and by the fact that the building managers had left for the weekend leaving the seniors to fend for themselves.
“They left with no plans in place for how these seniors would be able to get in and out of the building during the power outage, which was predicted to last for days,” Hoch said.
The manager on site refused to speak with KPIX 5. The building is owned by a Southern California non-profit company called Affordable Housing Access.
It gets a special deal from the government to provide low-cost housing but residents said — aside from installing a few new motion-detector lights — they have heard nothing from the landlords about what happened last weekend.
“I feel they have an obligation to a higher standard of care,” Hoch said. “It’s not just an apartment building. It’s a charity operating a building for low-income seniors under the tax-free provisions of our tax code.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the President of Affordable Housing Access called KPIX 5 to say he disputed the claims that people were left alone in the dark. But he later called back later to say he is troubled by residents’ accounts of what happened and that he plans to review management’s actions over the weekend and will be issuing “black-out” kits to each of the residents.