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Out of Harm's Way

August 2011

Seventy-one year old Lyle Tessman, who had spent his entire working life in Southern Oregon, was lonely and vulnerable after having recently lost his wife, Susan to cancer.

He had bought diamonds and travel for Susan and, when Nikki (care giver) came into the picture after Susan, he had signed contracts obligating him to pay for a cell phone, TV, and stereo for her. He also gave "beer money" to Nikki so that she and her twenty-something friends could have fun. 

Now Tessman was about to lose his mobile home of 33 years because Nikki, who was squatting in his home to take care of him, was staying with him in violation of mobile home park rules. Tessman also had gotten into significant debt due to the purchases he had made for Susan and Nikki. Because of it, he was also behind on his space rent.

Tessman's 68 year old cousin, Jo Nash, discovered during a visit to him that he had just received his third eviction notice from the park's property management company. She also found letters and notices from various creditors hounding Tessman to repay the debts he had run up to buy things for Susan and Nikki. Nikki, who was still living in Tessman's home at the time of Nash's visit, sought to reassure Nash that she had been taking care of the finances but also said she was "not good with numbers."

While Tessman was trying his best to ignore all that was going on around him, his health was affected. His blood pressure and blood sugar levels had risen to dangerous levels. His financial situation had become so dire that he found himself choosing between food and his medications.

Recognizing that her cousin was in big trouble, Nash contacted Oregon Senior Services, and a social worker there referred her to Help Now!

Help Now! Executive Director Larry Kahn and Advocate Octavio Jimenez promptly convened a meeting of Tessman, Nash, and Nikki. During the meeting, Nikki described how she was taking care of Lyle and, in return, he was letting her stay at his place and buying things for her. With Tessman's consent, Nikki was told at the meeting that she needed to get out, and promptly.

Help Now!'s directive proved enough to get Nikki to move, and she was out in time so that Tessman no longer was in jeopardy of being evicted for that reason. But he was still months behind on his space rent.

Next, Help Now! contacted the property manager responsible for Tessman's mobile home park. Because of his excellent payment history until recent months, the manager was willing to work with Help Now! to create a repayment plan for Tessman that would allow him to get caught up on his rent over a period of months.

Help Now! also prompted an assessment of Tessman by Senior Services elder abuse personnel. Their assessment was that Tessman could still perform necessary life activities on his own and consequently was still able to live independently. They did not believe there could be successful intervention by law enforcement authorities under the circumstances, and they do not deal with the vulnerability issue.

Because of this, Help Now! Advocate Cheryl Nicolay met with Nash and Tessman to work out a plan by which Tessman would move to a more protective environment. He is now in the process of selling his mobile home and is on waiting lists for several local senior housing complexes including the one where his cousin Nash lives. In the meantime, Nash is keeping a much closer eye on Tessman and the company he keeps.

Nicolay is also working on Tessman's debt issue. Some debts have been partially written off and all are being put on payment plans that he can afford.

Tessman is finding life less stressful these days, and his health is returning to where it was before all the recent chaos. He says "My life is more controlled by me, not anyone else. I have my integrity back, and I want to keep going."