With First-of-Its-Kind Demographic Data, Openhouse Advocates for Expanding Programs and Services to LGBT Seniors
About 20,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors call San Francisco home, a number projected to reach 30,000 by 2030. For years, they were underserved by San Francisco’s senior services and housing programs. In fact, this population was nearly invisible to city services and nonprofits.
In 1998, psychologist Marcy Adelman and her partner Jeanette Gurevitch founded Openhouse to ensure seniors in the City lived in safe, affordable housing that was supportive of their LGBT identity.
The only organization in San Francisco with this unique mission, Openhouse’s work has expanded for nearly 20 years. Today, Openhouse stays true to its defining statement, “housing, services, and community for LGBT seniors.” The organization not only helps LGBT older adults apply for low-income housing, it also connects those in the community with its Friendly Visitors volunteers and offers scores of programs, such as wellness workshops, yoga, discussion groups, art classes, and much more.
“For older adults, most of whom grew up as part of the Pre-Stonewall Generation, being able to access services and housing that’s affirming of their LGBT identity is very important,” said Michelle Alcedo, Director of Programs for Openhouse.
Support for Consistent, Professional Programs
Metta Fund has supported Openhouse so that it can commit its resources to long-term programs led by LGBT professionals.
“Metta Fund’s support has helped us provide consistent programming and communications for our community,” said Alcedo. “About 3,000 members of our community currently get information on our programs from our monthly newsletter, and Metta Fund’s support helps us highlight more programs and expand the reach of that publication.”
In early 2017, Marcy, Jeanette, and their co-founders’ vision will be brought to life, with the opening of the first of Openhouse’s two new buildings on Laguna Street, creating the City’s first and the country’s largest affordable housing specifically welcoming to LGBT seniors. The second building will open in 2018, and together, the two buildings will create 119 new apartments, a 2,700 square foot service center, and a 7,300 square foot community center.
“Our founders envisioned this community 20 years ago, and we’re really excited to see it finally come to fruition,” said Alcedo.
Advocating for Better Data-Gathering
When Openhouse began its work, service providers and community advocates in San Francisco knew there was a service gap for LGBT seniors, but no one had tried to measure it. In 2003, Openhouse conducted a first-of-its-kind needs assessment study of more than 1,300 LGBT older adults in the Bay Area. At the time it was the largest and most racially diverse study of LGBT aging populations in the country.
“When Openhouse was founded, nobody knew anything about the population,” said Alcedo. “We didn’t know the size of the population in San Francisco. No needs assessments had been done. Senior centers reported they didn’t serve LGBT seniors, because they didn’t ask questions about gender or sexual identity.”
Openhouse’s 2003 study found that 45% of LGBT adults aged 50-59 earned less than $39,000 a year. It also found that lesbian and gay seniors were more likely to be childless, single, and live alone than heterosexuals, lacking the family support to care for them. Although 90% of heterosexual seniors have children, nearly three-fourths of LGBT seniors Openhouse surveyed had no children.
“We really put the subject on the table and worked hard to ensure LGBT older adult voices are being heard in San Francisco,” said Alcedo.
In 2012, Openhouse joined with other groups to encourage the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to establish the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. The Task Force launched a citywide survey on Caring and Aging that has since influenced public policy around peer support, language translation and access to information, treatment for dementia, and many other aspects of aging that affect LGBT adults in unique ways. Openhouse helped carry out that survey and analyze the results, released in 2014.
With the data gathered by the task force, Openhouse, and especially co-founder Marcy Adelman, led advocacy efforts that changed the law in San Francisco, making it mandatory to collect information on sexual orientation and gender identity whenever demographic data is collected.
“Openhouse is called upon to educate other organizations in the City on how to collect and interpret that data,” said Alcedo. “We’re seen as the flagship service provider for LGBT seniors, but now more organizations are coming to the table and telling us they want to offer LGBT affirming programs for their seniors. So we’re expanding our training and consultation work, and helping partners throughout San Francisco create meaningful programs for LGBT seniors at their sites.”