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Center on Halsted announces country’s first LGBT homesharing program

by Joseph Erbentraut
Contributor
Thursday Dec 16, 2010
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Using their annual holiday open house on Friday, Dec. 10, as a backdrop, the staff of Chicago’s Center on Halsted announced a new free service that will provide a unique alternative housing option for the city’s LGBT residents.

The program, which is the first of its kind, will pair interested elders with younger renters who would share their home. The renters would help their older roommates with their basic household tasks in exchange for reduced rent. Each pair of roommates would ultimately have to determine their own rental agreement in partnership with the Center, which would screen potential participants, facilitate matches and support the arrangement throughout its duration.

"I truly believe in this program," said Britta Larson, who manages the Center’s homesharing program. "And my job is to make sure it is safe, secure, well through-out and well done. We really have put a lot of time and effort into make sure this program is the best it can be before moving forward with launching it."

Larson believes the program will help those facing financial instability, loneliness, a lack of a family support network and a number of other challenges that disproportionately affect LGBT older adults, She added the program will also help younger people who are seeking companionship and the ability to affordably live in a more desirable neighborhood to forge new friendships.

Research for the homesharing program began more than a year ago under the tenure of the Center’s former senior director of public programs Serena Worthington, who now works with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). After investigating existing homesharing models and polling the agency’s membership, it created the new program.

Worthington anticipated the program would benefit participating elders in dire need of affordable housing options outside traditional nursing home settings. In addition to the Center’s new program, LGBT elder-targeted roommate matching programs and "naturally occurring retirement communities" have been created in Manhattan.

"Most people want to age in their homes and people are very reluctant to move into mainstream care environments, particularly LGBT elders, who are justifiably afraid of discrimination and are nervous about how they’ll be treated," said Worthington.

The reality for many LGBT elders, who are estimated to number between 1.7 and 3.5 million in the United States, is a nursing home may be their only option. And for that reason, Worthington said it is important for advocates to work toward mainstream housing options that are both safe and inclusive of all-a goal she said is achievable.

According to a national report released on Monday, Dec. 13, four out of five aging agencies said they would be willing to offer training to their staff on LGBT issues. SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging received a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration on Aging to advance these efforts.

"It is a worthwhile effort to make nursing homes and assisted and independent living centers more safe and inclusive," added Worthington.

As EDGE has previously reported, efforts to create LGBT-specific senior housing communities have seen some success in recent years. These include Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing’s Triangle Square in Hollywood, Calif.

But while such efforts continue to gain momentum and receive some much-needed grant funding to help create new and affordable housing options for LGBT elders, other projects have stalled under the weight of the country’s struggling housing market. Those projects include Openhouse in San Francisco. In addition to continuing to work toward raising the funds it needs to open their ambitious new 88-unit project, the organization earlier this year temporarily took over the services New Leaf had provided.

Stonewall Communities in Boston; Spirit on the Lake in Minneapolis; SHARE in Portland, Me.; and Open Circle in Milton, Dela.; are all currently on hold. New housing developments in Chicago and Philadelphia are in the early development stages.

Despite these setbacks, Worthington said it’s important for advocates for LGBT elders housing to approach the issue from multiple angles, particularly as baby boomers continues to age.

"This community is going to need choices that fit their lives and work for them and I think this is a collective effort across the country," she added. "This all needs to happen so that this aging group has what they deserve, which is safe and inclusive housing. We all deserve that."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

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