Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

City Hall backs LGBT senior initiatives


Longtime bi activist Maggi Rubenstein was one of many LGBT seniors who spoke at a Board of Supervisors' committee about the need for affordable housing and other issues. (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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Agencies that receive city funding to provide services to the elderly in San Francisco will likely be required to undergo cultural competency training on the unique issues that LGBT seniors face.

A new LGBT senior advisory group that would be tasked with pushing for specific policy proposals is set to be established, though under which city department's purview it would fall remains unclear.

And should an affordable housing measure go before city voters this November, advocates for LGBT seniors intend to see that the proposal carves out funding to address a burgeoning elderly population fearful of being priced out of San Francisco.

The three policy initiatives are some of the immediate steps advocates for LGBT seniors and the Board of Supervisors' three-person LGBT caucus plan to pursue following a hearing last month that focused attention on the challenges facing older LGBT people.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said he and his colleagues, gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos and bisexual District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, plan to meet with advocates who helped organize the January 26 hearing in order to develop a set of next steps.

"Some issues are very deep, systemic issues, like housing affordability and access to healthcare, that don't have a simple fix," said Wiener. "We want to make sure we have a well organized list of what the key takeaways from the hearing are and what can be addressed in the short term and longer."

What none of the supervisors wants to see happen is another task force be formed to look at the issues confronting LGBT seniors that leads nowhere.

"We don't want to start a task force just for the sake of it," Olague told the Bay Area Reporter. "The findings are there. We want to move these things along."

The issue has already been studied both locally and nationally. In 2003 the city's Human Rights Commission held hearings on the issue and issued a report titled "Aging in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Communities." Training on LGBT senior issues for service providers was among the report's more than 60 recommendations.

"We are at the point where enough studies have been done. We already have the information, now is the time to act," Campos said. "I know Scott, Christina and I are committed where legislation is needed, we are ready to introduce it."

The first measure will likely be to require community-based organizations that receive funding from the city's Department of Aging and Adult Services undergo cultural competency training on LGBT senior issues.

"If you get city money to work with this population, it should be required that you will treat LGBT elders with dignity," said Campos.

The aging department already offers the training on an optional basis and has a $40,000 contract with Openhouse, a nonprofit focused on LGBT seniors, to provide it. 

"We don't require it but we've had so much compliance around it. The providers really like it," said Anne Hinton, the aging department's director.

Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn told the B.A.R. that the demand for the training outstrips his agency's current capacity to provide it. As it is, Openhouse has sought private funds in the past to supplement the city contract.

"We find demand is much greater than we are actually able to do," he said.

It can provide the training to up to 20 different agencies per year. Since the contract began in 2004, Openhouse has trained 180 separate agencies and roughly 1,600 individual people.

"In terms of having a requirement for cultural competency training, that kind of requirement absolutely is worth discussing. But it needs to include how such training gets paid for," said Kilbourn.

Funding will be a key issue going forward on whether the aging department will be able to implement any specific LGBT senior initiatives, Hinton said. Her department's budget this fiscal year is $165 million, and like all city agencies, she has been asked to identify budget cuts totaling 10 percent over the next two years.

"We are probably not doing enough on any of the issues, although San Francisco has been very generous with our department," said Hinton. "We have done pretty well through these budget times. There is never enough money in any community, frankly, to do all the things that need to be done."

She is open to forming an LGBT senior advisory group under the auspices of her department's Aging and Adult Services Commission. Hinton said she would like to pull together members of several informal groups that already advocate for improving access to services for older adults, including LGBT seniors, and people with disabilities to determine how to form such a group.

"What might be good for us, since we staff all of those groups, is to internally meet with those players in those groups and see how we proceed," said Hinton. "The people are already there. We just need to figure out what kind of a reporting relationship it will have."

Kilbourn added that he would want to include the Human Rights Commission's LGBT advisory group in those discussions, as its members have been pushing for city action on LGBT senior needs for years.

"I would want to see what the advisory group would do and be mandated to do," he said. "If we can get the groups together and have really clear purposes for an advisory committee, I am all for it."

Housing needed

As the B.A.R. reported last week, one of the key concerns many LGBT seniors have is the lack of affordable housing options there are in the city. It was a refrain many speakers repeated during last week's hearing.

Maggi Rubenstein, an 81-year-old bisexual who owns a house in Glen Park, said she knows she is lucky to still be living in her own home, which doesn't have stairs. She also has two children, now in their 50s, and friends on whom she can rely.

"I cry and my heart breaks for all those people out there who don't have the good fortune I have," she said. "I urge the board to take immediate action on this."

Senior Action Network board member Betty Traynor said the housing situation is particularly acute for those who live in single-room-occupancy hotels. Many lack working elevators, which Traynor noted becomes a problem for residents as they age.

There are few options for those wanting to move, though, as openings in government supported senior housing developments are hard to come by.

"I know how frustrating it is when people call about affordable housing. They are put on a waiting list. The key word there is waiting," she said. "That is not easy when you are a senior."

Openhouse has started housing clinics to work with LGBT seniors in need of affordable housing. Since people need to sign up for various waiting lists in order to get into either public housing units or subsidized low-income housing, the process can be confusing, said Kilbourn.

"It is not easy at all," he said. "We are working and meeting with LGBT seniors one-on-one to do a needs assessment and find housing that is affordable to them."

 The recent appointment of gay former Supervisor Bevan Dufty as the city's new homeless czar was seen as a boon to efforts on addressing the housing needs of LGBT seniors. Many see Dufty as playing a key role in ensuring the issue is addressed, especially if a housing bond comes before voters.

"The timing is perfect as there is going to be a push to make that happen citywide and I know the LGBT supervisors will make sure if something is approved it requires an LGBT component," Campos said.

 Dufty told the B.A.R. he would be working to see that the establishment of a city housing trust fund meets the needs of LGBT seniors. And he wants to address other issues LGBT seniors in affordable housing face.

"I will be looking at outcomes for individuals living in city-funded housing, which includes public housing," said Dufty.

55 Laguna

The opening of an affordable housing complex run by Openhouse at 55 Laguna near the LGBT Community Center will likely also be at the top of Dufty's to-do list. Last February the Mayor's Office of Housing awarded the agency $575,000 toward preliminary design work for the project.

Kilbourn said he expects to begin hosting community meetings to gather feedback on the design sometime in late March or early April. Then Openhouse would seek final city approval for the design by the fall.

"It is our hope we will be able to get final approval from the Planning Commission this year in order to move forward on the project," he said. "Once we get the final approval from planning, then we can go back to the city to ask for additional money to get it to be shovel ready."

As of now the 109-unit facility is estimated to cost $56 million. Openhouse hopes to obtain the funding from local and federal sources for affordable housing projects.

Should a local housing trust fund be established, Kilbourn said Openhouse would certainly seek financing from that pool of money.

"The city desperately needs additional sources of financing for affordable housing. It would help not just 55 Laguna but other projects," he said.


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