02:31 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Isha Desselle

Story highlights

Isha Desselle was inspired to help house homeless seniors during a trip to India

The Turning Point Center empowers residents to maintain the grounds themselves

Houston, Texas CNN  — 

On a trip to India almost 30 years ago, Isha Desselle saw a woman living on the streets, begging for food.

“I couldn’t stand to think that someone’s mother had to beg for food,” she said.

The experience led Desselle to make a bold move. Shortly after she returned to her Houston, Texas, community, she sold her home and small electronics business to buy a rundown apartment complex.

The 34-unit building was lovingly renovated and has since housed more than 7,000 of Houston’s most vulnerable seniors.

“When you’re older, living on the street, it’s a very scary place,” Desselle said. “They need help. It’s like they don’t exist—and that’s wrong.”

CNN Hero Isha Desselle

For Desselle, the project was a way to combine her passion for helping the homeless and the elderly, something engrained in her as a child growing up in Trinidad.

Desselle and her mother frequently fed the homeless at their house. And she was taught early on to treasure the elderly. So, when her family moved to America, Desselle was shocked to see seniors often neglected.

“The elderly in Trinidad, they were always respected,” she said. “In the United States, it’s like they’re kind of shoved aside. I was surprised by that.”

Today, the Turning Point Center accepts anyone over age 50.

The program offers food, housing, clothing and rehabilitative services to meet each resident’s physical and emotional needs and help them get back on their feet.

For Desselle, the center is a labor of love—one in which she has invested thousands of dollars and most of her life.

“What better thing could I do with my time or money?” said Desselle, who lived at the center for a decade. “There are only so many material processions I can have. I’d rather dedicate my life to helping others.”

CNN’s Meghan Dunn spoke with Desselle about her work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

CNN: Why does the population you help often fall through the cracks?

Desselle: The people who are between the ages of 50 and 62, society views them as too old for working and too young for Social Security. The job market, you’re either overqualified or underqualified or did not keep up with technology. So they’re stuck in the middle.

If something goes wrong, that they’ve lost a spouse or lost their home or their job, it spirals down and they could fall into a homeless situation. There are new steps that they have to go through that they’re not aware of at all. How do you apply for Social Security, disability, widow benefits? It’s all new, and it’s a great shocker. It’s like, “What do I do? Where do I turn?” It’s very, very difficult for them.

When they come here, we interview each person, assess them and see what does each client need. And then we tackle that.

CNN: Why is the Turning Point Center different from other shelters?

Desselle: Each apartment can hold up to five people. Most of the shelters, you have to be out early in the mornings, between 6:00 and 7:00. Here, you don’t have to leave. You can be here and take care of what you need to. If you’re not going to an appointment or job hunting, you can be here.

The end goal for all these residents is to move on or acquire what they came here for. Some, it’s benefits; some, it’s a job. Some is to heal.

CNN: The shelter is run in a unique way, too.

Desselle: I may organize it, but the people here, they are the ones who make it happen. They’re at the gate, the office, the kitchen, the maintenance, everything. We try to find out what they’re good at, and as you’re able to pull that out of them, they shine. And you see the best in them.

It’s like they have new life again when they’re able to do and feel proud about something. They’re actually giving back. Instead of a handout, they’re put in a position to help.

Turning Point Center resident Richard, 63, paints railings in the courtyard.

CNN: What’s the atmosphere like at Turning Point?

Desselle: When the residents come here, they become like a family to each other. They help each other. We’ve had some of our residents get married, and they move out as couples.

The whole goal of this place is to make you feel at home. This is a community. Our clients are gems. They have so much to offer the world. People need to not push them aside; bring them into their family. And don’t pass judgment that quickly because you can be there, too.

Want to get involved? Check out the Turning Point Center website and see how to help.

You can make a donation right now to Turning Point Center. Just click the CrowdRise widget below!