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As officials broke ground on affordable-housing development, LB resident recalled her struggles with illness

Blesing describes her battle with ‘debilitating condition’ during groundbreaking of Vistas del Puerto

City+and+nonprofit+officials+celebrated+March+27+the+groundbreaking+of+the+affordable-housing+development+%0AVistas+del+Puerto%2C+which+is+scheduled+for+2020+completion.+The+site+will+serve+those+with+financial%2C+mental-health+and+housing+needs.
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As officials broke ground on affordable-housing development, LB resident recalled her struggles with illness

City and nonprofit officials celebrated March 27 the groundbreaking of the affordable-housing development 
Vistas del Puerto, which is scheduled for 2020 completion. The site will serve those with financial, mental-health and housing needs.

City and nonprofit officials celebrated March 27 the groundbreaking of the affordable-housing development Vistas del Puerto, which is scheduled for 2020 completion. The site will serve those with financial, mental-health and housing needs.

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

City and nonprofit officials celebrated March 27 the groundbreaking of the affordable-housing development Vistas del Puerto, which is scheduled for 2020 completion. The site will serve those with financial, mental-health and housing needs.

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

City and nonprofit officials celebrated March 27 the groundbreaking of the affordable-housing development Vistas del Puerto, which is scheduled for 2020 completion. The site will serve those with financial, mental-health and housing needs.

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With a rare diagnosis and pending hearing loss, Long Beach resident Kathleen Blesing felt like she had nowhere to turn.

When she was 14, Blesing was diagnosed with a “debilitating condition” that most doctors had never even heard of. Upon learning of her disease, she felt ashamed and somehow responsible.

Kathleen Blesing, a Long Beach resident at Immanuel Community Housing, spoke to attendees Wednesday, March 27, at the groundbreaking of Vistas del Puerto about her hearing-loss illness.

“In order to avoid ridicule, I tried to hide it– and I failed miserably,” she told a Long Beach crowd of city and nonprofit officials Wednesday, March 27, when they convened in midtown for the second consecutive week to break ground on another affordable-housing development in the city.

The commemoration was for the future site of Vistas del Puerto, a five-story, 48-unit development at 1836 Locust Ave. that is currently being constructed and is projected to open in late 2020 for lower-income families, those with special needs and homeless residents.

Blesing, a resident of Immanuel Community Housing, recounted Wednesday her story of illness and triumph and how she wound up “winning the lottery” and gaining access to her need for affordable housing. The nonprofit Clifford Beers Housing, championing the development of Vistas del Puerto, was one of the donors for the development where she resides.

“I had never heard of Clifford Beers before, but I soon discovered that he and members of his family suffered from mental illness,” she said. “But more important, they suffered from the stigma that went along with that. In a strange way, I identified with him. I too got judged for something that I had no control over.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and other officials with the nonprofit Long Beach Community Investment Company (LBCIC) and Clifford Beers Housing introduced the future site of Vistas del Puerto, which is intended to house people like Blesing who are faced with personal and financial difficulties.

Vistas del Puerto will feature one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for lower-income families earning between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income, according to the City of Long Beach in a press release. Half of the apartments will be reserved for individuals with special needs, including people with chronic health conditions and individuals who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, the release added.

“This project is a shining example of projects that we welcome in the city of Long Beach,” Garcia said at the event. “And I will say that, unfortunately, not every city in California is doing this type of work. I think our challenge as a city is to continue to welcome these projects, to continue to ask for more of these projects, but to also push our neighbors up and down the state of California to step up and build these types of projects across California.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia told the crowd March 27 that Vistas del Puerto, a future five-story, 48-unit development at 1836 Locust Ave., is a “shining example” of the City’s work.

As aforementioned and reported by the Signal Tribune, the groundbreaking is the second hosted by Long Beach in a week. On March 20, the City celebrated the groundbreaking of The Spark at Midtown, a 95-unit affordable housing development to be built in partnership with the nonprofit LINC Housing Corporation.

Officials said the transit-oriented Vistas del Puerto development is located less than a quarter mile from the Metro Blue Line light rail and bus lines that operate along both Long Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, which will “connect residents to vital services and workplaces in Long Beach and beyond.”

In February 2018, the LBCIC approved a gap financing loan of approximately $3.02 million to Clifford Beers Housing to support the development of Vistas del Puerto, according to a press release from officials this week.

Clifford Beers Housing officials also specified that social services at Vistas del Puerto will be provided by Mental Health America of Los Angeles– which will include case management, mental-health treatment, employment support and resident activities.

“We’ve talked about getting people into permanent housing because we want them off the street,” said Christina Miller, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Los Angeles. “We want people housed, and we want them thriving going forward to be important members of this community.”

Nonprofit officials added that the apartment complex was designed by KFA Architecture and will feature large community spaces, on-site parking, secured pedestrian entry, staff offices, bike storage, edible garden planters, a community room with a kitchen, a courtyard and laundry.

Moreover, the general contractor for the project is Dreyfuss Construction. Vistas del Puerto is funded by: Wells Fargo Bank; the Community Development Commission of the County of LA; LBCIC; Genesis LA; Corporation for Supportive Housing; California Community Reinvestment Corporation; and Los Angeles Department of Health Services.

An uncertain future
“I was told that I was an underachiever,” Blesing said. “I was told that I had potential, but that I was lazy. In the overcrowded Catholic school system that I was in, there was no special-ed classes to accommodate me. I had no advocate. There wasn’t even an ADA yet. And there was no expectation that there would ever be a hearing aid that would help my specific type of deafness.”

Looking toward a deaf future filled with vertigo and nausea, Blesing said she mustered the strength over the years to get better at “faking it and blending in” by reading people’s lips and gaining employment in the art department of a Fortune 500 company.

She figured, “I didn’t need to hear to be able to do art.” Blesing then stumbled upon real estate, renting homes to people with housing vouchers.

“[I never realized] that I too might someday need or qualify for one myself,” she said. “But that day eventually came– all it took was one frivolous lawsuit and a real-estate crash, and I was suddenly one of those people. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”

After a lifetime filled with sweat equity and hardships that left Blesing “bankrupt physically, emotionally and financially,” she said her luck changed two-and-a-half years ago.

“The program that was described to me sounded like something of a social experiment,” she explained. “There were going to be eight lottery winners, and they were going to share a residence in a rehabilitated old church with 15 formerly homeless tenants. And the neighbors, of course, were having none of it. They didn’t want those people in their backyard, and they were very vocal about it.”

As one of eight approved residents to enter the transformed old church of Immanuel Community Housing, she said she couldn’t believe that, at age 70, there was going to be “a soft landing” for her.

“Not just me, but 26 other people with way more interesting stories than I had,” she said. “I’d like to tell you that it was all rainbows and unicorns and we lived happily ever after, but it wasn’t that easy. It was bumpy at first, but soon the lines began to blur between the formerly homeless and the more privileged lottery winners like myself.”

The inhabitants of Immanuel Community Housing grew together and became family. As described by Blesing, the neighbors viewed them with curiosity and caution. But soon, they began joining them for organ concerts, trick-or-treating activities in front of the old church and neighborhood-association meetings.

After a rough start, the social experiment was beginning to work, Blesing said.

“I no longer wonder what the neighbors are going to think when they find out that I am one of those people,” she said. “I’ve been invited into their home. They often ask if they can bring a friend over to see mine. Usually, they or someone they know want to know how to get on the list to move in. Yes, I am one of the faces of Clifford Beers Housing, and Clifford, if you can hear me, a big thanks to you and everyone else here today. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

For more information on the City’s affordable-housing and assistance programs, visit lbds.info and click on “Housing and Community Improvement.” For information on Clifford Beers Housing, visit cbhousing.org.

1 Comment

One Response to “As officials broke ground on affordable-housing development, LB resident recalled her struggles with illness”

  1. harold a maio on March 30th, 2019 10:28 am

    —-“I had never heard of Clifford Beers before, but I soon discovered that he and members of his family suffered from mental illness,” she said. “But more important, they suffered from the stigma that went along with that.

    Stigmas do not “go along” with it.

    Stigmas are prejudices that have to be taught, that require hours of nurturing..

    Harold A Maio

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As officials broke ground on affordable-housing development, LB resident recalled her struggles with illness