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Openhouse ED Hosts Town Halls

by Matthew S. Bajko

Openhouse's Karyn Skultety
Openhouse's Karyn Skultety  

Openhouse Executive Director Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., is hosting a series of town halls next week to update the community on the expansion of programs provided by the LGBT senior services agency and the new construction timetable for the second phase of its senior housing complex.

Last November residents began moving into the $40 million project's first phase, a renovated former college building located at 55 Laguna Street. At the dedication ceremony in March for the city's first affordable housing aimed at LGBT seniors, it was announced that work to construct the new building with 79 units of affordable senior housing on what is now a parking lot at 95 Laguna would begin this month.

Construction is now expected to start next month, with an official groundbreaking ceremony set for sometime in October. The new building should open to residents in April 2019.

"We are in the middle of closing on financing and expect to break ground in September," said Ileah La Vora, a housing developer with Mercy Housing, the nonprofit developer working with Openhouse on the project.

The units will again be allotted by lottery, which has yet to be scheduled. The more than 1,700 people on the waiting list for the 55 Laguna units will need to reapply for the units in the new building.

The age limit has been raised, however, from 55 to 62 years of age. Fifteen units will be reserved for those at risk of being homeless and another six for low-income people living with HIV or AIDS. One unit will be set aside for an onsite manager.

"In the fall of 2018 we will have the application and lottery process going on. But I don't have an updated timeline on that," said Skultety. "We will put out an FAQ in either September or October to educate people about the process for how this will work."

The new building will include more than 7,000 square feet of space for Openhouse to use for community events and classes. It will be in addition to the agency's offices at 65 Laguna Street, known as the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center due to a $1 million donation from the foundation of the B.A.R.'s founding publisher.

"I feel really excited about the fact we serve more people now than we ever did," said Skultety, noting that 2,300 people have taken part in its programming this year. "And I feel very excited about the model of community we are building here at 55 Laguna. We have data that 100 percent of residents have interacted or engaged with Openhouse over the first six months of living here."

Already the meal program Openhouse hosts in the community room at 55 Laguna is at capacity, and those wishing to attend need to RSVP. Due to the demand, it will increase in frequency from twice a month to weekly by early 2018, and in September, a new rainbow lunch for women called the Sister Circle will debut.

The agency is also looking to increase its friendly visitor program to serve 100 seniors at a time who are matched with a volunteer that routinely drops in on them. It is also recruiting community members to help it create a participatory research model with the purpose of better gauging the impact of its programs.

Openhouse received funding through a state program aimed at reducing mental health disparities to evaluate if its support groups and other services are reducing participants' levels of depression, anxiety, and trauma.

"The idea is to be able to better study outcomes and demonstrate how do we impact people who feel isolated from the community," said Skultety.

This is the second time Skultety has held town halls since joining Openhouse as its new executive director in February. Ones she held in the spring were sparsely attended, however, and she is hopeful the ones next week will result in a higher turnout.

In addition to emphasizing "what is the latest and greatest happening here," Skultety hopes people see the town halls as a way for them to influence the agency's offerings and priorities.

"I am committed to making these a regular occurrence," said Skultety, adding she plans to hold them either quarterly or twice a year.

The first town hall will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, August 21 at 501 Castro Street during the agency's men's group.

The second will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, August 22 and the third will be from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, August 25. Both will take place at the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center at 65 Laguna Street.

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