Online Extra: Political Notes: Advocates urge swift action on SF LGBT senior report

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Monday April 21, 2014
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Advocates are urging San Francisco officials to swiftly enact the various recommendations contained in a report on the city's LGBT senior population.

Titled "LGBT Aging at the Golden Gate: San Francisco Policy Issues and Recommendations," the document is the work of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force that was created by the Board of Supervisors two years ago. It disbanded in March after completing the 120-page report.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the bulk of the report's 40 recommendations deal with how the city's housing crisis is impacting LGBT seniors. The task force's suggestions run the gamut from building more affordable housing for LGBT seniors and increasing eviction protections for them to providing rental and homeowner assistance and legal services to help them maintain their housing.

Other areas covered by the recommendations include LGBT data collection and cultural competency training for senior services providers, social support and mental health services, and legal assistance.

Last Thursday the supervisors' Neighborhood Safety and Services Committee, on which sit the boards' two gay members, David Campos and Scott Wiener , held a hearing to formally accept the task force's report. Campos and Wiener, along with bisexual former supervisor Christina Olague, had called for the creation of the LGBT seniors panel after being approached by advocates within the LGBT community.

"We feel all of the recommendations are feasible both financially and politically," said Bill Ambrunn , a gay attorney who chaired the task force. "We would like to see all of these recommendations implemented; not some of them, all of them. Each and every one of them is going to help a significant number of seniors in a variety of ways."

Ray Rudolph, 63, a gay man living with HIV, worked with Ambrunn to press for the creation of the task force after seeing an earlier report on LGBT seniors issued in 2003 be ignored. He pressed the supervisors not to similarly shelve the new report.

"We really need to have this happen now and not sit on a bench," said Rudolph. "I expect to see a few good things from this report politically."

Meals on Wheels of San Francisco Inc. Executive Director Ashley McCumber, a gay man who served on the task force, cited the calls for better data collection and cultural competency training as a critical piece the city needs to immediately address.

"Those really need to float to the top," he said.

Task force member Marcy Adelman , Ph.D., who co-founded the LGBT senior services agency Openhouse, highlighted the need for services targeted at LGBT seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's. By 2020 there could be as many as 4,000 LGBT seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's living in San Francisco, she noted.

But unlike their heterosexual counterparts, who have family members or children who can look after them, Adelman noted that many LGBT seniors live alone, are childless, and may be relying on friends of the same age who are also dealing with faltering mental acuity.

"Unlike the AIDS epidemic we see this crisis coming," she said. "There is time but we need to act now."

Task force members not only called on the supervisors to create a new panel to ensure that the report's recommendations are enacted but also called for a special body to focus on how to address the housing needs of the city's LGBT seniors.

"We need the formation of a group of people to look at that issue of how to keep people in the community as long as possible," said L. Michael Costa, a health policy analyst who served on the aging policy task force.

Queer housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca , 62, echoed calls by others to ensure LGBT seniors are not evicted from their homes, for in today's sky-high rental and housing markets they often are priced out of the city or find themselves living on the streets. The task force report asks the city to explore the legality of banning senior evictions.

"I urge you not to shy away from our recommendation on eviction protection for LGBT seniors. It may not be possible but I urge you to push and go as far as you can," said Avicolli Mecca.

He also asked that city officials "stick to" the report's call for more senior housing to be built in the gay Castro district. The task force report suggests working with the SF Land Trust to construct such housing.

"It is important our seniors live in the Castro," said Avicolli Mecca, who noted community land trusts are "underutilized gems" in San Francisco. "It is a way to keep affordable housing forever."

Illustrating the housing need was speaker Danny Smith , a city resident of 40 years who lost his job and housing last year. The night prior to the hearing he slept under a monument between the city's main public library and the Asian Art Museum a block away from City Hall.

"Last year I was unemployed and homeless for the first time. It was quite a blow to my ego and understanding of how the world works," said Smith, choking up as he described not wanting to "be a bother" to the city workers who woke him up that morning. "Housing is a desperate issue now. I hope the city can address that."

By late May Campos and Wiener expect to introduce the first legislation stemming from the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force's report. It will call on city departments to collect LGBT data and require service providers that work with seniors to train their staff on LGBT cultural competency.

"Obviously, it is not the end but two tangible things we can do right away," said Wiener, "that should have been done a long time ago, quite frankly."

Campos said last week that his office is also working with advocates on a "bill of rights" for LGBT seniors who are in long-term care facilities. He said he is also working on housing policy to address the needs of LGBT seniors.

The task force's report, added Campos, "far surpassed my expectations. Your efforts are truly admirable."

In the audience for the hearing was Anne Hinton , director of the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services, who noted her office is already working on a strategic plan to address dementia among seniors.

"I was taking notes today," said Hinton. "I was glad to hear the calls for data collection and cultural competency training. We have begun working on some of that."

She added that her department intends "to implement what has been put before us" in the task force's report.

Wiener pointed to his legislation allowing for the creation of in-law units in the Castro as one solution for allowing seniors to remain in the neighborhood. It will allow those seniors who may struggle with climbing stairs to build out their garages or other ground-level spaces into apartments for themselves and rent out the remaining parts of the property, said Wiener.

"As the population ages there are more issues around architectural barriers in keeping people in their homes," he said.

Wiener also called upon senior advocates to pressure the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development to build more senior housing in the upper Market Street corridor running through the Castro.

"Openhouse is only a start," said Wiener, referring to the agency's 55 Laguna 110-unit affordable senior housing development set to break ground later this fall at a former college site a block off Market Street. "It is a major frustration for me that we are not getting more affordable housing in the Castro, especially for seniors."

Unlike in other parts of the city where affordable housing faces opposition, added Wiener, "in this neighborhood it is not controversial. The neighborhood wants it and will embrace it."

The task force's full report can be downloaded at


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail [email protected].