Opinion: A family’s dedication to service supports affordable senior housing in San Diego

August 27, 2022

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

That’s why San Diego has the fifth largest homeless populationn in the United States. And one in four of them are people over the age of 50.

Even when funds are available to build affordable housing, neighbors often push back due to unfounded fears about density, property values, or even crime.

So when a project manages to complete, it’s cause for celebration. At the service of seniors eagerly awaits the official completion of the Harris family’s new seniors’ residence in City Heights. The name was unveiled at an event at the project on August 18.

The 117 housing units for seniors are fully rented. New residents are expected to move into the building at Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard in October.

The building is 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, his brother Richard Harris, and their three siblings, grew up in City Heights and attended Crawford High School.

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

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

With the success of their multiple business interests, the Harris family began making regular donations to our Serving Seniors programs. Family members regularly volunteer and serve meals at the Gary and Mary West Wellness Center for Seniorsincluding niece Cori Harris, who would accompany her grandparents in her youth.

“When you’re 10, you don’t necessarily think of it as a service. You’re just spending time with the family. It instilled in us the importance of service in the community,” Cori said. “When I left for college it was something I really, really missed. Coming home I was looking forward to going to Serving Seniors over the holidays and spending time with my family and to tie these two things together.

Now, Cori has joined her uncles Jerry and Richard to represent the Harris family name as part of the City Heights facility’s new identity.

The Harris family recognizes the many challenges with affordable housing in San Diego. “As a family, we are very proud to be able to help move in the right direction to solve some of the problems, even if it is only 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 neighborhoods in San Diego to embrace quality inclusive housing.

“It is not because a person is poor that he is inferior to others. These neighbors have nothing to fear. The way Serving Seniors develops their communities and the types of activities they do is an asset to any community they want to move into. I hope other communities will start adopting these projects because it’s needed,” Jerry said.

“When I choose to give money to a philanthropy, the first thing I want to do, I want to know, is that they are using my money for a good purpose,” he added. “I like local organizations that provide direct services to people so I know my money is going straight into the hands of the people who really need it.

“Serving Seniors is a San Diego nonprofit that works directly with people in need. They feed people, they house them, they provide medical advice and services, they are leaders in the field. They can meet all the needs of seniors in one place.

The four Harris brothers (David, Jerry, Richard and Mike) and one sister (Sally) are longtime donors to Serving Seniors, including making donations in name to 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 living in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Paul Downey is CEO of At the service of seniorsa San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors living in poverty live healthy, fulfilling livess.

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