Taking care of our seniors

Published by Mark Segal in the Philadelphia Gay News on September 9, 2010.

We call it the “Pie in the Sky” project. For many of us, it’s the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken. To find a home, a safe place to give our LGBT seniors to live; to bring them home to thrive in their very own community. I have no illusions that the proposal has many more milestones to meet. It is not a done deal yet. And it will take the support and input of the entire community and our elected officials who have committed to follow through on the project.

It’s been a long road to get to where we are today. We’ve had the support of Sens. Casey and Specter and our delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gov. Rendell was an early supporter, as was Mayor Nutter. But the biggest surprise was support from a place we never expected it: our legislative leadership. When we explain the special problems of LGBT seniors, it is rewarding to see the passion it inspires in people, who then work to find a solution. We looked everywhere and talked with anyone who would listen. Along the way, even the president has viewed the proposal.

The pie in the sky project is a 12-story tower above the William Way LGBT Community Center with 40-70 units of affordable living space for LGBT seniors and, with it, an enhanced community center with additional features. It is the largest capitol project ever envisioned in the Philadelphia LGBT community.

There is only one other project of its type up and running in the U.S. and that’s in Los Angeles. Ours would be the second. But a major difference would be that Philadelphia’s will bring our seniors into the heart of our community, our Gayborhood, where they can become or continue to be active members of a growing community.

The sad truth is that seniors in our community are not embraced. Their needs are often overlooked, as we often forget that delivering social services to all makes a community. A caring community. The Attic Youth Center does a great job of taking care of our endangered youth, Mazzoni Center is wonderful at taking care of our physical and mental health needs, and we have a variety of organizations that look after, educate or deliver services in the HIV/AIDS area. But seniors?

During the last year, our community has taken a giant step in beginning to address those needs. A core group of interested individuals and organizations has been meeting on a regular basis, looking at ways to address those issues, and those efforts have created a daylong summit coming up in October at the William Way LGBT Center, where seniors themselves will express their needs in their own terms. That is the grassroots effort this community should be applauding.

My personal reasons for coming to this project are the people I look to as pioneers, teachers and heroes of our struggle, who were so busy fighting for our rights that they didn’t have time to watch their own wallets. And now, they struggle to pay rent. There are the couples who were not allowed to live together in senior housing, the abuse of LGBT seniors and the senior housing far removed from the Gayborhood, making it almost impossible for them to ever participate in their own community. The elders of our community are, in many ways, responsible for the successes we are now enjoying on the road to equality. In many respects, their first efforts plowed the road. It’s time for us to give back. It’s time for us to take care of our own.