From a crossroads to a ‘haven’: Willie Truitt thrives in numerous ways at Old City

May 09, 2017

Willie Truitt faced an all-too-common dilemma when he needed an affordable place to live. But then he received a life-changing call from Old City manager Tanya Scott.

A little over two years ago, Willie Truitt was at a crossroads, facing an unfortunate predicament that impacts older adults in Philadelphia every day.

He was in desperate need of an affordable roof over his head after his hours were cut at both maintenance jobs he was working. According to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, 38.4 percent of adults age 60 or older find it very or somewhat difficult to afford housing costs in the city.

Willie’s daughter invited him to come and live with her and her mother. But the situation was less than ideal. And all parties involved knew that it wasn’t a permanent solution to Willie’s housing dilemma.

“I didn’t feel right doing that,” Willie said of moving in with his daughter for a short time. “Call it pride, call it stupidity, whatever you want to call it. I couldn’t do it.”

After meeting with a social worker and filling out a plethora of applications for subsidized housing, Willie soon got a call from Tanya Scott, housing manager of Old City Apartments. The call, Willie says, was quite simply a “blessing.”

Nestled within a few blocks of historic attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, Old City Apartments offers 59 units of HUD-PRAC Affordable Housing sponsored by Presby’s Inspired Life.

“Do I like it here? I love it here!” Willie, looking out his apartment window as cars drive by and people walk by on popular 4th Street, proudly said. “For me, look at the area. We’re talking Old City Philadelphia. It’s quiet and it’s peaceful from where I used to live at in Southwest Philly.

“After a month or so, I just fell in love with it.”

“I still wake up and I’m in awe the way this all has played out here.”

While an affordable place to call home was Willie’s obvious need and the downtown location was a plus, those things weren’t what really made Old City truly feel like home to Willie.

“It was the people that run this place. They’re top-notch,” Willie said of Old City manager Tanya Scott and her team.

Willie had a roof over his head. But he didn’t have much else. He was sleeping on an air mattress, his only piece of “furniture.”

Tanya, knowing Willie was a new resident and didn’t have much to spare on furnishings, reached out with an offer.

“[Tanya] did something she didn’t have to do,” Willie recalled. “There was a woman here who was moving out. Her son-in-law and daughter were moving her out. One day I’m walking out of the building and Ms. Scott catches me. She says ‘Mr. Truitt, would you like a sofa?’ I, of course, said yes. She just mentioned a sofa.

“So the day came when they were moving out. And, lo and behold, everything you see here – sofa, chair, everything – came from the woman’s apartment. What really knocked my socks off was the couple that moved the woman out, the man came and put everything together and brought all the furniture in.”

It was a connection between residents, past and present, that Tanya made and Willie will be forever grateful for.

“Every time Ms. Scott asks me to do something, I do it because what she did for me was like miraculous. It was unbelievable. I still wake up and I’m in awe the way this all has played out here.”

“To me, this is a haven. A Garden of Eden. …  I couldn’t ask for anything better than where I’m at.”

The once bare, white-tone apartment is now covered with furnishings, portraits and different types of trinkets that match Willie’s colorful, lively personality.

On the ledge by the window facing the courtyard off of 4th Street sit various carved letters arranged to spell out the names of women in his life Willie holds near and dear to his heart. Included are the names of his daughter, mother and best friend, among others.

On top of a wooden dresser near the door sit a stack of vibrant, clearly hand-drawn sketches. When asked about them, Willie trekked over the dresser to grab them and then showed off the professional-like caricatures of a family reading together in front of a fireplace.

“Believe it or not, they’re for a novel I’m working on,” said Willie, who works on the novel almost daily in Old City’s computer room. Willie also takes part in the Reading Buddies program, which links local school children to seniors around Presby’s communities for educational reading sessions and was founded over 40 years ago by a current Presby’s resident.

“I’m working on a novel and a children’s book,” Willie said. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do and how I want to put the drawings and the books together. I’m just sketching right now.

“There was a time when I got tired of watching movies and got tired of listening to music. I just took out a piece of paper one day and that’s how it all began. I’ve loved it ever since.”

Willie hopes to have his novel, hand-drawn artwork and all, completed sometime in 2018.

“It’s about people my age — a family named the Hills with six kids who grow up to be chefs in Center City. It’s a mixture of reality and a touch of fantasy in there. That’s about all I can tell you right now!”

Willie credits the environment, and of course, the team member who assists him in the computer room, for helping him think creatively with his stories and artwork.

But he credits the environment and people at Old City for a whole lot more, too.

“To me, this is a haven. A Garden of Eden,” Willie said. “I know some could think I’m stretching it a little bit. But come on, the situation, the timing — I couldn’t ask for anything better than where I’m at.

“It’s like when you wake up and everything is going your way every day. My daughter says to not worry and enjoy it. And that’s exactly what I’m doing!”