EPIC House: West End home provides family atmosphere for low-income elderly

'We're like the best-kept secret in Cincinnati'

CINCINNATI -- It’s been more than 30 years since the Dominican Sisters of Charity in the city’s West End neighborhood began to worry about what would become of the elderly, low-income residents they saw living in Cincinnati’s inner city.

Their concern prompted action, and in 1989 they opened EPIC House after several years of planning. EPIC, short for Elderly Persons in Community, has been providing a safe and welcoming place for its residents ever since.

“I knew right away that this is where I wanted to be,” said Tony Alexander, who, at 60, is the “baby of the family” at EPIC House. “The people who work here give you a lot of respect and in general it’s a fantastic place to live.”

Tony Alexander

Alexander is one of nine residents of EPIC House, and several have lived there for a decade or more. But despite the decades that the tiny nonprofit has operated in the West End, many people in the community still know little about it.

That’s part of the reason EPIC House will host its first Oktoberfest event on Thursday, Oct. 5. The organization is hoping to raise some money, of course, but the main purpose of the event is to introduce more people to EPIC House and its mission, said Executive Director Marlene Hamilton.

For a $5 per person donation, guests will get beer, soft drinks, brats, metts and more. There also will be tours of the EPIC House facility and a chance to meet its staff and residents.

“We’re like the best-kept secret in Cincinnati,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to get our name out here so people know this is what we do.”

Living with dignity

Each resident at EPIC House has his or her own bedroom and bathroom. They share the dining room, living room and other common areas.

The nonprofit’s staff members cook three meals a day for the residents, do all their laundry and cleaning and make sure the residents take their medications.

There is even a volunteer who visits to cut the residents’ hair for them.

The facility has a spacious courtyard behind the building with an outdoor patio where residents can enjoy cookouts and raised garden beds where EPIC House can grow its own vegetables in the summer. 

Residents do pay some rent, although what they pay doesn’t come close to covering the expenses necessary to operate the place, Hamilton said.

Marlene Hamilton in the EPIC House living room.

So EPIC House counts on donations and volunteers to get the job done, she said.

Residents typically must be at least 60 years old to live at EPIC House, and they can stay as long as they don’t need more medical attention than the facility is able to provide.

Alexander has early stage Parkinson’s Disease. He lived on his own for a few years before he started feeling isolated and stopped wanting to cook for himself. Then he spent some time in a nursing home but didn’t need that level of care.

He likes EPIC House, he said, because of the family atmosphere and the sense of community.

“Marlene’s a sweetheart. Lucky (the house manager), she’s a ball of fire, and all the people who work here are very serious and take their jobs very serious,” he said.

Photos of current and former residents hang on the walls throughout EPIC House, and Hamilton is constantly raising money to make improvements.

Photos of EPIC House residents hang near the entrance.

She has grants lined up to renovate the kitchen and laundry room, and a former EPIC House board member recently donated a van to help transport the residents.

Now Hamilton is working to raise the $5,000 it would cost to fence in the facility’s parking lot and build a new shed to replace an old one that is deteriorating.

“Most of the residents who live here have no family so they don’t have anybody to visit them or care for them,” she said. “We want to give them a place where they can live with dignity, are safe and just have a good quality of life.”

EPIC House has a patio outside with a table big enough for all the residents to eat dinner there.

More information about EPIC House is on the organization’s website and Facebook page. Details about its Oktoberfest event are on Facebook page, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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