LGBT seniors seek housing, greater visibility
by Matthew S. Bajko
Twelve months ago Nicky Frausto left San Francisco. It was not by choice.
"I was forced out. I am low income and I was just not able to find a place," said Frausto, 68. "I see a lot of my friends moving out of the city in order to survive."
In his case, Frausto moved in with his boyfriend, Jack Pyne, 77, in Pittsburg in eastern Contra Costa County. The two met through Primetimers, a social club for older gay men.
As he settles into his new home, Frausto continues to commute into San Francisco. He volunteers at Openhouse, a nonprofit provider of services for LGBT seniors, and stops by the Castro Senior Center to visit with friends.
He worries, though, that his cohort is fast becoming the forgotten generation.
"We get the feeling when we talk amongst ourselves we are antiques. And antiques you throw out," said Frausto. "We are invisible."
It is a concern shared by Pamela Quiton, 55, a lesbian who lives in a studio in the Mission on 18th Street. She has seen friends forced to relocate to the East Bay due to a lack of affordable housing options in San Francisco and worries some day she, too, will have to move.
"Everyday I pray what is going to happen to me after this," said Quiton. "My friend lost her house because the owner had to sell it. She looked everywhere to live here, but now, she is far away in the East Bay. We lost our friend."
Quiton can't afford to move into an assisted living facility for seniors and is fearful of ending up in one of the city's single-room-occupancy hotels. She has heard horror stories of women being harassed for sex or raped in such housing.
"If I do have to move, it is very hard to find a place to live in San Francisco. I might end up in a hotel," said Quiton. "I am really scared. I am getting older and have arthritis, it is hard for me to get around."
As she tries to plan for the future, Quiton sees few options for her in the city. She is hopeful the doors will open at Openhouse's 55 Laguna project, which would see 109 units of affordable senior housing for older LGBT people be built a block away from the LGBT Community Center. The project sponsors are in the midst of securing financing in order to start construction.
"It would be really great to live in 55 Laguna," said Quiton, though she knows she will be one of likely thousands of LGBT seniors applying for the apartments.
Even more such LGBT-friendly housing projects need to be built in San Francisco, she said.
"They take good care of the city's historic buildings, how about taking care of its historic people," said Quiton. "There also needs to be community places where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors can go to be together."
Such concerns will be the focus of a hearing today (Thursday, January 26) at City Hall that the Board of Supervisors' LGBT caucus has called for to examine the needs of a ballooning gay senior population.
There are an estimated 25,000 LGBT people over the age of 60 living in San Francisco. And that number is expected to double to 50,000 by 2030.
The numbers may be an undercount, worries Gustavo Serina, 66, a gay man who is vice president of the city's Aging and Adult Services Commission. While the city has a fairly good picture of the number of seniors at the low and high ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, it may be missing those in the middle, contends Serina.
"Older seniors may not have been reached or are reluctant to identify themselves as LGBT," said Serina, who has lived in the Castro since 1978. "I know most people my age who own homes are financially secure, travel, and are in good health. I am not sure that is reflected in the numbers. For reasons I am not all together clear on, we haven't reached a broad spectrum."
It is important to reach as many seniors as possible, said Serina, as they are not a monolithic group. The issues and struggles they face vary by age, income, and life experiences he said.
"I think LGBT seniors who are 75 or 80 have one set of issues. Those of us who are avant-garde baby boomers have different issues," he said. "We are less inclined to be worried about being closeted."
Another area of concern is how to provide for the needs of a rapidly aging HIV and AIDS population. Two years ago the city saw the majority of its AIDS cases be among people 50 and older. The number is projected to continue to climb, presenting unique healthcare challenges within this population.
"We are the guinea pig generation. Nobody knows what long term survival on med regimes is going to mean and what will we need," said Hayes Valley resident Ray Rudolph, 62, who is HIV-positive. "Is San Francisco prepared for that? I don't know. As a long time survivor living with HIV, I worry about cutting back on ADAP and services and things like that. I am always keeping a watchful eye on that."
Single and living alone, Rudolph said he is contemplating a move back east to New York City should his housing situation change.
"If it wasn't for my rent controlled unit, or anything changed with my housing, I would have to move," said Rudolph. "Affordable housing in this city is critical."
The hearing on the needs of LGBT seniors will take place at 1 p.m. today in Room 263 at City Hall.
The San Francisco Commonwealth Club is also hosting a panel discussion tonight about the needs of LGBT seniors. A networking reception begins at 5:30 p.m. and the program starts at 6 p.m. at the club's offices, 595 Market Street.
Tickets cost $20 for nonmembers, $8 members, and $7 for students with valid ID.