Happy End of the Road for RVers: Assisted Living on Wheels


Pearl and Bud Crispell hit the road in their RV the day after they retired in 1976. And for decades, that's where they stayed, living in their 40-foot motor home and traversing the country at will.

But, as is the eventual story of all road warriors, the day came when they hit the proverbial dead end. Unable to manage some aspects of their life and care, living on fixed incomes and not wanting to become a burden to friends and relatives, the Crispells pulled in to the country's only assisted-living RV Park, the Escapees Care Center in Livingston, Texas. The nonprofit adult day care and residency program, featured in a Columbia University News 21 profile, bills itself as a refuge for RVers whose travels are permanently ended because of age or temporarily interrupted because of an illness.

For a monthly fee of $824 per person, or $1,236 a couple, residents get a spot to park their wheeled homes; three meals a day, every day; two loads of laundry service a week; light housekeeping of their unit; transportation to medical appointments; and access to registered nurses on call 40 hours a week.

The Care Center also functions as a land-based community hub for the residents, providing daily activities, concerts, and a place to socialize. Not to mention a chance to get behind the wheel again: Last Father's Day, residents competed in blind golf cart races. The drivers had to be legally blind or wear a blindfold while their sighted navigators yelled directions around an obstacle course of parking cones.

At 93 and 90, Pearl, a retired nurse, and Bud, a former IBM engineer, are not without age-related health issues. But her mind is "sharper than my husband wishes it was," Pearl says. And she has no desire to trade the small confines of their RV for a bigger "land-based residence," as Escapees call conventional houses. "We didn't retire to entertain our family," she says.

Right now the center's 35 sites are all occupied, by vehicles ranging from minivans to 40-footers. Each unit has its own fresh water supply and a private septic system. While a few residents are in their 90s, most are in the mid- to late 80s, says Robert Brinton, the facility's executive director and on-site manager. The center doesn't have a waiting list or immediate plans to expand. Openings occur and there just always seems to be someone who wants it, he said.

Brinton himself joined the Escapees RV Club in 2000 precisely because it has the Care Center. The 60,000-member strong club is founded on the "caring and sharing" principle, which appealed to him, Brinton says. Member donations built the Care Center, which has no mortgage and is thus able to keep expenses low.

The trend toward the "village" approach to aging in place is growing, says Nancy Thompson, senior media relations manager for AARP. She defines it as "co-housing" with a self-selected group of people who build a community together. It allows people to stay in their homes by providing easy access to services, especially transportation. Villages like this "are springing up all over the country," she said.

Other co-housing units --also known as affinity communities -- exist based on other shared commonalities. In Burbank, CA., the Burbank Senior Arts Colony is home to retired artists, musicians, actors and writers. The high-end Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, N.M., is home to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. In addition to its assisted living, it has a cabaret, an award-winning restaurant and a spa, reports AARP.

An AARP story notes that "With 3 million GLBT older Americans -- a figure projected to nearly double by 2030 -- and typically no adult children to care for them, such communities are expected to multiply."

To watch a News 21 video featuring the Crispells, click here.

Also see:
Baby Boomers Launch Remodeling Boom

Rent Your Way to Retirement With a 'Rental Mortgage'

Gay Housing Project Slated for Palm Springs

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