December 8, 2011

HUD Hosts First-Ever Summit for LGBT Seniors

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Yesterday, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights held a first-ever national summit on LGBT seniors at HUD’s headquarters.  The day-long event included LGBT community workers, advocates and speakers from across the nation.

The summit’s goals were to discuss current barriers LGBT seniors face in securing housing, analyze what is causing this and plan for solutions to these issues. I was able to participate in the mid-morning Community Support Services for Non-Institutional Affordable Housing and Institutional Housing Settings panel.

The Community Support Services for Non-Institutional Affordable Housing and Institutional Housing Settings panel was composed of three workers from across the country involved in LGBT senior housing affairs. Mya Chamberlin of Portland, OR, Kathleen Sullivan of Los Angeles, and Hope Barrett of Chicago discussed many of the issues they face daily in the LGBT housing field, yet also spoke to the great strides being taken to offer solutions and hope.

All of the panelists noted that some of the largest problems facing aging LGBT groups include feelings of isolation, depression, fear of rejection and the mental stress of being gay can add to these factors. Between 64-75% of LGBT seniors live alone, much higher than the percentage for straight counterparts. The feeling of isolation that can stem from this is one of the main areas that senior LGBT programs across the country are looking to combat. All three panelists spoke of programs that are specifically designed to bring seniors into community centers and engage them in meaningful, helpful daily activities that not only provide recreational opportunities, but also the chance to socialize and spend time in safe, comfortable surroundings.

Taking these ideas a step further, many of the community centers are creating programs to find housing for seniors, and two of the programs on the panel have plans in progress to build LGBT senior housing through a combination of public and private funding. A unique, LGBT-focused house sharing program started through the Halsted Foundation in Chicago has just started, but is already showing promising signs of success.

The summit provided strong signs for the advancement of fair and equal housing to not only LGBT seniors, but to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans.  To quote HUD Assistant Secretary Trasvina when speaking to the conference, “you cannot speak relatively of equal housing in the 21st century without addressing LGBT housing opportunities.”

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