Guest Opinion: SF aging agency helps LGBTQ seniors

  • by Martha Knutzen
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022
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Martha Knutzen Photo: Courtesy Martha Knutzen
Martha Knutzen Photo: Courtesy Martha Knutzen

LGBTQ+ seniors, the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services is here to serve you. Check us out.

In 2003, while I was a member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, it held a hearing on the unique issues facing the LGBTQ senior community. It was clear we needed a more thorough investigation of the issues we faced as we aged in San Francisco. In the report from the hearing, the Human Rights Commission called for the formation of a task force to investigate and recommend policies to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people as they aged in the city. In 2012, gay then-District 8 supervisor Scott Wiener (now a state senator representing San Francisco) led the Board of Supervisors in creating the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. Many key experts on senior LGBTQ+ issues lent their expertise and many volunteer hours to this historic task force. The task force report, issued in 2014, included 13 recommendations. The recommendations called for improved data collection focused on our unique experiences and the services our community needs. The report also made recommendations related to housing, care navigation, culturally competent mental health, Alzheimer's and dementia services, as well as legal services to protect us from financial fraud, evictions, and help with estate planning.

In 2019, members of the task force reviewed the implementation of the 2014 task force and found that we had made significant progress in implementing these recommendations. To monitor the progress of the programs created pursuant to the task force, gay current District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has conducted hearings on sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, data collection in the five mandated city agencies where data is collected. The agency reports create a road map for us to meet our needs in San Francisco now and into the future.

It has been my unique privilege to serve on the Disability and Aging Services Commission since my appointment by Mayor London Breed in 2018. As commissioners, we review contracts for services to the many community-based organizations that serve older adults in San Francisco. In San Francisco, approximately 23% of our population is aged 60+ and about 5% are disabled. We also serve the veterans community.

In the past five years as a commissioner, I have not only learned about the many innovative and far-reaching services available to all residents aged 60+ in this compassionate city, but that programs have been specifically created for LGBTQ+ residents over 60 because we are considered an underserved community. I am continually impressed by the quality of the staff at DAS and their compassion and commitment to serving the diverse communities of older adults throughout San Francisco, including ours.

What this means for an LGBTQ+ person aged 60+ or a younger adult with a disability living in San Francisco, is there are a lot of services available to you. DAS helps older adults by funding:

- Community centers that provide fitness classes, service connections, and translation services. They also provide technology hardware and assistance to bridge the digital divide experienced by older adults. Specifically, Openhouse and the Curry Senior Center provide special programs for LGBTQ+ populations, but they are welcome to participate in programs throughout the city.

- Nutrition services, meals served both at community centers and at home, including culturally appropriate menus.

- Care navigation services to help you get the services you qualify for, including in-home supportive services.

- Access and empowerment services, including legal help to help you get the benefits you deserve, as well as transportation assistance, estate planning and money management programs.

- Self-care, safety programs, adult day care, mental health, dementia, and Alzheimer's assistance programs.

- Housing assistance, from housing subsidies to myriad programs that help you stay in your home.

Many of our programs are not based on income, though some are, so everyone who lives in San Francisco and is 60 or older should check them out. Call our DAS Benefits and Resources Hub at (415) 355-6700, visit us in person at our drop-in center at 2 Gough Street, or go to our website.

The Bay Area Reporter recently reported on Tom Nolan, who retired this year as the special projects manager for LGBTQ+ services at DAS. Before he left, Nolan led a review of the 2014 LGBT Aging Policy Task Force's recommendations. That process resulted in recommendations to improve our services for the LGBTQ+ senior community. At DAS, we are taking the recommendations of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force report seriously. First, we will continue to improve our outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. Notably, the recent 2022 Dignity Fund Community Needs Assessment estimated that 12% of all seniors in San Francisco are from the LGBTQ+ community but only 5% of clients served by the Dignity Fund identify as LGBTQ+. We are committed to enhancing our outreach to our community through a new online resources database expected to be live in 2023. Second, we look forward to having a staff person at DAS to replace Nolan, who was responsible for outreach to our community and for the collection of SOGI data that is so critical to providing the programs we need, as well as evaluating their effectiveness. And third, DAS will also continue to provide additional support to LGBTQ+ seniors and people with disabilities, helping them remain in their communities.

So, if you are an LGBTQ+ person over 60 living in San Francisco, check out DAS.

Martha Knutzen, a lesbian, is president of the San Francisco Disability and Aging Services Commission.

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