February 10, 2022 was the official opening day for the St. Teresa of Calcutta Villa, a 14-story, 407-unit building that is part of Father Joe’s Villages.
Father Joe’s President and CEO, Deacon Jim Vargas spoke to the crowd on that day.
“People who have been on the streets for such an extended period of time … now they look elated because they have a place of their own,” Vargas said.
The elation of that day is long gone and is replaced by fear and anger, and it’s all because of the building’s three elevators.
“We are basically like caged animals here,” said Maria Ennis, who is a resident at the Villa and a plaintiff in the case.
She showed KPBS a video she shot showing the fire alarm going off while, she said, all three elevators were out of service.
Ennis has lived at the Villa almost since the building opened. She said the elevators started breaking down within the first couple of months.
“They don’t give you an estimated time of when they’ll be fixed. It could be an hour or two. It could be days,” Ennis said.
She also showed KPBS pictures of yellow tape over the elevator doors — a sight that greets residents when they’re out of order. She also showed pictures of an elevator repairman arriving to service them.
“I get pretty angry,” said Mo Trull, another resident and plaintiff in the case. Trull must use a motorized wheelchair to get around.
He, along with Ennis and another resident, are bringing a lawsuit against Father Joe’s Villages over the broken elevators. There are a number of people in the building who are disabled. For them, the fear of being trapped in a burning building is always there.
And it’s not just the threat. Fires have actually happened in a couple of apartments in the building. Scorch marks on the building are evident outside one unit on the 12th floor and there are boarded up windows visible on another.
“No matter where the lawsuit goes, my main goal is to have the elevators fixed so that we feel safe where we’re at. They feel they did a good job for the homeless. Prove it. Prove that you’re not putting our lives at risk,” Ennis said.
Father Joe’s didn’t make anyone available for an interview. Instead, they provided a statement: “Father Joe’s Villages (FJV) is committed to serving all people impacted by homelessness and poverty. Any claims of housing discrimination are taken seriously and we aim to address such concerns promptly. FJV has an internal complaint process to remedy structural or maintenance issues residents may discover. At this time, FJV is unable to speak to any pending or current litigation relating to this matter.”