Credit: Caitlin Rogers

Jan Klitch wants other area seniors to feel as secure in their homes as she now does, thanks to some safety updates it received through a local program.

A retired school nurse, Klitch now sits on the Old Town City Council, and her days are busy with meetings and volunteer work. Although her gray-and-orange rescue cat Miss Kitty-Doggy is plenty of company, Klitch, 86, said she faced challenges living alone. She also didn’t want to move. “I just thought I was capable, if I had certain safety features,” she said.

That’s why Klitch decided to contact Comfortably Home, a program connected to the Maine Housing Authority that helps elderly and disabled people make home alterations and repairs so they can live independently and safely in their own homes. The program — which is offered in Old Town as well as in other communities across the state — is funded by the Maine Housing Authority and independent donors, which means the work is free for participants who qualify financially.

The Comfortably Home program in Old Town also covers Bangor, as well as Orono, Hampden, Veazie and other locations.

Just days after she called, Klitch said Comfortably Home started working on projects that included installing new grab bars in the garage and bathroom, replacing smoke detector batteries, adding higher-powered light bulbs and installing new door handles.

Klitch said the modifications made her feel more secure. “It’s certainly made my life much safer, and given me the capability to be in my home by myself,” she said.

This year Comfortably Home is projected to complete work on 40 homes in the Old Town area, according to Executive Director Laurie Miller and Project Manager Kate LaBree.

Their goal is to complete the accessibility modifications as quickly and efficiently as possible, so their work doesn’t interfere too much with the participant’s daily life. “We would like to be able to get in the home and do the modifications in a day,” LaBree said.

That approach was successful for Klitch. “The work people are tremendous,” she said. “They’re neat, clean, come when they say they will, don’t keep you waiting, and I would recommend it to anybody.”

The program benefits not only the participants, but also their communities, according to LaBree and Miller. “If a first responder is traveling all the way out to Greenbush on a frequent basis to lift someone off of the floor, or if someone is calling 911 chronically for falls or trips, if we can reduce that burden and minimize the impact of illness and injuries, I think that’s a really important goal for the community,” LaBree said.

From start to finish, Klitch said the process for participating in Comfortably Home took a matter of days. After an initial intake phone call, where the potential participant’s eligibility is checked, LaBree and Comfortably Home maintenance technician Troy Turner usually go out to the house and take notes about what adjustments are needed, along with suggestions from the homeowner. Then, they draw up a work plan that the homeowner must approve. After they get approval, they get to work.

Comfortably Home was originally started by the Bath Housing Authority in 2015, according to the program’s history. After that program was successful, the Maine State Housing Authority decided to expand and fund the program in multiple other places, including Old Town, Bath, Fort Fairfield, South Portland and Westbrook. Brewer also recently began offering the program.

The Comfortably Home program in Old Town is funded by grants and donations, most notably from the Maine State Housing Authority, Machias Savings Bank and the Maine Community Foundation, according to Miller.

Although Comfortably Home is well-funded, its staff is eager to help and there is not a waiting list for the program right now, Klitch said that some people don’t know about the resources that are available to them. She heard about the program by chance through a talk at the library, and since then has found that many people who may qualify don’t know about the program. So she’s taken it upon herself to spread the word.

“I recommend it to anybody and everybody. Anybody who’s eligible should be doing it, for their own sake. They can stay in their own home, and be more comfortable and safe,” she said.

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