SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation has taken a first step in serving the unmet needs of LGBT seniors through its new Aging with Dignity program.
Tony Freeman, executive director of SDHDF, said the organization realized there was a lack of support for San Diego’s senior LGBT community and because studies have shown that LGBT seniors have an array of unmet needs, that now was the time to take action.
“In our new five-year plan, we made a decision to significantly increase our efforts to address unmet needs in the community,” Freeman said.
The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation is a community organization that works to help LGBT people. The foundation funds and promotes programs and projects that that help advance equal treatment, tolerance and human dignity throughout the community.
Program specifics announced
The program will include several phases, the first of which is raising $250,000 to support the hiring of a full-time LGBT senior advocate to work at The Center in Hillcrest.
The senior advocate will work with the community to find out what the most pressing needs of the senior LGBT community are. The information that is collected will then be used to determine how funding should be spent in the second phase of the program.
Delores Jacobs, CEO of The Center, said she is in the process of hiring a senior advocate.
“The senior advocate will function as a case manager, connecting LGBT seniors to available resources as well as a client advocate,” Jacobs said. “They will be working with a variety of traditional and LGBT-friendly providers to increase the capacity of all senior providers to provide culturally appropriate services for LGBT seniors.”
The $250,000 will be raised through various channels. Freeman said the executive committee of SDHDF has already approved $5,000 each year for two years (for a total of $10,000) to support the Aging with Dignity program. The rest of the money will come through donations from individuals, foundations and other organizations.
“Individuals or couples who pledge $5,000 a year for two years ($10,000 total) will be invited to be a part of our Leadership Circle and will be offered semi-annual personal updates on the progress of Aging with Dignity,” Freeman said.
The Center and SDHDF will enjoy a mutually beneficial arrangement, Freeman said. SDHDF will make a grant to The Center to help support the senior advocate position and work to attract continued funding. Freeman said The Center will serve as home to the senior advocate and can help provide the invaluable data that SDHDF needs to better serve LGBT seniors.
“The Center and SDHDF have a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship that is focused on working together to help our community,” Freeman said.
Freeman said Aging with Dignity was started this year because of the compelling data showing all the issues that LGBT seniors face.
“Study after study has found that LGBT seniors are not adequately served by LGBT or mainstream agencies that provide services to vulnerable seniors,” Freeman said. “The issues are varied and complex, including, but not limited to, social isolation, inhospitable health-care environments, mainstream aging programs that are not welcoming, reliance on informal families of choice, who lack social and legal recognition, and higher rates of chronic physical and mental health problems than their heterosexual counterparts.”
Jaime Grant, executive director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College and author of “Outing Age,” a publication of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said LGBT elders often face different challenges than heterosexual seniors do.
“LGBT people generally have fewer assets when they face their elder years due to the cumulative effect of anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace,” Grant said. “Many studies have noted that LGBT people generally earn less than their heterosexual counterparts over their lifespan, and LGBT’s are also less likely to be coupled than heterosexual counterparts, making more of us dependent on Medicare-funded nursing situations.”
Very few LGBT housing communities exist across the U.S. and the many more that are in development are often halted because of the inability to find the funds needed to complete the projects.
The Human Rights Campaign article, “Unique Challenges for Seniors,” notes that even if these housing projects were built, few LGBT seniors would be able to afford the very expensive cost of living there.
“There is no real national commitment to LGBT elders and very few resources,” Grant said. “Even in the big cities, where there are huge LGBT communities, LGBT elder services are woefully underdeveloped and underfunded.”
“Our participation over the past several years as a member of the LGBT Senior Housing Committee and the compelling and distressing research from multiple sources, confirmed for us that now is the time to address the growing needs of our LGBT seniors in San Diego,” Freeman said.
Fears of LGBT seniors
Traditional nursing homes and long-term care facilities are often not prepared for the needs of LGBT seniors and terrifyingly, many places abuse, neglect and discriminate against LGBT seniors, according to an article published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force blog.
“Nursing homes and elder housing programs by and large are completely unprepared for LGBT clients and residents,” Grant said. “LGBT people are often at the mercy of abusive and neglectful providers in elder care, so much so, that some folks go back in the closet in their elder years.”
The article, “LGBT Elders Raise Serious Fears About Long-Term Care Facilities,” published in early April by the Task Force blog, cited a recent national survey in which more than half of those who took part in the survey said they felt that staff or other residents at a nursing home would discriminate against, abuse or neglect an LGBT senior.
The survey, “LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities: Stories From the Field,” was conducted from October 2009 through June 2010 and found that 43% of those polled reported a total of 853 instances of mistreatment, 89% predicted that nursing home staff would discriminate against LGBT seniors and 24 respondents reported that they were denied medical treatment.
According to the HRC article, “Unique Housing Challenges For Seniors,” some assisted living facilities even refuse to let LGBT couples move into the same room together. This can often lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, both large problems among LGBT seniors.
LGBT seniors are often times at a higher risk than heterosexual seniors of experiencing social isolation because of higher rates of living alone and also because LGBT elders report a lack of welcome at senior homes.
In order to combat the feelings of social isolation, abuse or discrimination, many LGBT seniors feel they must go back in the closet or not openly come out to those around them at long term care facilities and nursing homes, often compounding the problem of social isolation, according to the HRC article.
How Aging with Dignity can make a difference
In a time when LGBT seniors are increasingly facing challenges that their heterosexual counterparts don’t experience, SDHDF has provided a place of support.
“Aging with Dignity starts by extending a hand to LGBT seniors who need our help,” Freeman said. “By offering a skilled person to begin assisting them with the most immediate of their issues, seniors will know they are not alone.”
The senior advocate will act as a first contact for LGBT seniors looking for guidance and help. Freeman said the LGBT seniors who contact The Center’s Senior Advocate will help better the program by providing valuable input as to where they believe the needs of LGBT seniors are underserved.
“Aging with Dignity is about caring for the individual, and taking what we learn from those relationships to inform us as what our next steps are in ensuring our LGBT seniors age with dignity,” Freeman said.
Freeman said once the needs of San Diego LGBT seniors are better understood, SDHDF can start funding programs that will help address those needs.
“Compassionate care and knowledgeable assistance is a powerful prescription for hope and aging with dignity,” Freeman said.