A longtime caregiver becomes a friend at Angelus Plaza

Most Angelenos are unaware that there’s a huge apartment complex for older adults right in downtown Los Angeles. In fact, it’s the largest subsidized senior housing community in the country.

Since 1980, Angelus Plaza has been home to a diverse community of about 1400 low-income older adults. The demographic has shifted over the years – there used to be a lot more Latino residents, we’re told. These days, Angelus is seeing rapid growth amongst its Korean American population – so much so that the owner of the in-house salon has recently hired a Korean-speaking stylist.

Due to our current housing shortage, there is fierce competition for affordable housing–especially for people over 65 years of age. People can spend years on a waiting list in order to get a coveted apartment at Angelus Plaza. With its central location, access to public transportation, and offerings such as subsidized meals, a library, a hair salon, a market, classes, dances and a popular annual senior talent show, older adults from around the area are eager to spend the later years of their lives here.

They all live “independently.” It’s not a nursing home. But many residents rely on professional caregivers to help them stay in their apartments. And if they’re lucky, the relationships they form with their caregivers can have multiple health benefits, fending off depression and chronic health conditions such as heart disease.

Agripina Castellanos, 98, lives at Angelus Plaza. She and her caregiver Maria Martinez have come to depend on each other.

Friendship and care at Angelus Plaza

Agripina Castellanos, 98, sits with her caretaker of the last ten years, Maria Martinez, who is 65. (Photo by Bear Guerra)
Though Agripina relies on Maria’s help and companionship for half of each day, she insists on doing as much as she can by herself – like putting on her lipstick. (Photo by Bear Guerra)
After 10 years, Agripina says that she and Maria are like family, “If she had wanted to go, she could have left to work for somebody else… But I haven’t let her go. I love the way she is, we get along great. So that’s why I won’t let her go.” (Photo by Bear Guerra)
Agripina now uses a walker to get around, but otherwise, says Maria, “She’s totally healthy. She doesn’t take any medications – only her vitamins.” (Photo by Bear Guerra)
Agripina has lived in Angelus Plaza for 26 years. To be a resident of Angelus, one can have a visiting caregiver, but must be able to live independently. Maria says that Agripina is “still the same as she was 10 years ago. Her mind has deteriorated a little due to age, but she’s really doing great for being 98.” (Photo by Bear Guerra)
Maria and Agripina share a laugh as they get in the car on a recent winter morning in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Bear Guerra)
At least once a week, the two women enjoy breakfast at Agripina’s favorite restaurant, the popular Philippe’s deli at the edge of Chinatown. (Photo by Bear Guerra)
According to Maria, there are times when the two don’t get along. “But when I see that she’s in that kind of mood, I just keep quiet. Until I see that she’s gotten everything out of her system. Then, we start over, as if nothing happened.” (Photo by Bear Guerra)
Maria helps Agripina get up from the table after finishing breakfast. Since Maria’s husband died last year, she spends even more time with Agripina, now caring for her during the weekends, which she used to take off to spend at home. (Photo by Bear Guerra)
About the relationship between a caretaker and their employer, Maria says, “it’s really nice to have someone to spend your days with, but without having arguments. There are some people at Angelus Plaza who talk about their caretakers, and say such terrible things. How could they say that? They’re helping them… That’s life, people sometimes have to help you, and you should accept it.” (Photo by Bear Guerra)