A homey home: co-ed housing for senior citizens. Independent living program on the banks of the Hudson

HAMILTON Avenue in Ossining, N.Y., is an established neighborhood, with houses of similar age and design. One Victorian, with a commanding view of the Hudson River, is an adult home that offers sheltered living for elderly people who don't need institutionalization, but who want a degree of service for comfort and safety, as well as the companionship of other adults. It's part of an enriched housing program called Living Independently for the Elderly Inc. (LIFE), licensed by the New York State Department of Social Services and operated by the Bethel Homes. It offers a warm, homey atmosphere, nutritious meals, health monitoring, and opportunities for recreation.

``You're more on your own without someone telling you to do this or that,'' says Eleanor Cyphen, a resident.

Another resident, tired of living with her married daughter and family, wanted to be more independent, but didn't want to live alone. She learned from a friend about the house in Ossining, which she felt could meet her needs. She passed entrance requirements, became determined to try it, and has been happily ensconced in her new environment for quite some time.

Up to eight people share kitchen and dining facilities, as well as a common living space. Everyone has a private bedroom, with two or three sharing a bathroom.

A social worker is present during weekdays. She keeps tabs on the health of the senior citizens and oversees the hired homemaker, who is on duty seven days a week, does the food shopping and laundry, and prepares the afternoon meal.

LIFE House was founded by the Junior League of Westchester on Hudson. The league managed the home for several years until early in 1986, when it asked the Bethel Homes, a nonprofit facility specializing in the care and housing for the elderly, to assume its operation. The transfer was completed in December of that year.

Carolyn Cony, the social worker who is the home's program director and case manager, observes, ``There are a lot of state regulations to follow, but they're for a purpose. These laws protect the residents' safety, security, and rights.''

Residents are encouraged to keep their community associations and activities. A part-time recreation worker, according to state law, must see to it that a minimum of 10 hours of recreation is available. The members of the house also take advantage of community facilities, including a dinner out on occasion. Some of the people enjoy crafts; others, TV. Discussions invariably follow news broadcasts and conversation zips across the atmosphere.

In the summertime, one of the favorite pastimes is backyard gardening. Harvesting the flowers, grown in a space reaching to the banks of the Hudson River, then arranging them, is one expression of independence.

A few of the people continue working part time and bring home news of things away from home.

The relatively modest monthly charge, either on a private pay or supplemental security income basis, covers all their needs except for personal items. Volunteers offer transportation for those attending churches or synagogues.

When asked to explain the house, Richard Rieper, a resident, says, ``It's a very nice location, quiet.''

Susan Lanier, another resident, puts it another way: ``Love is in the air, and it's safe and secure.''

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