Northstar Senior Living is the latest senior living provider to create a new residence welcoming to members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
The company’s chief operating officer, Steve Kregel, recalls that the path to creating Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, Calif., started when his company was approached by two private investors out of Los Angeles who had bought an old hotel near downtown Palm Springs with an eye toward turning it into housing for seniors.
“We looked at it and the community and the first thing I thought of was turning it into an LGBT community,” he said, noting that more than half of the Palm Springs neighborhood identifies as LGBT. “The demographics made sense, and we thought this is a good opportunity to start an LGBT friendly community and test the market out. …We talked to many city officials and residents of the area, and they were very supportive.” Although Stonewall is marketed for the LGBT community, it’s open to any senior, per fair housing law.
The non-profit Equal Rights Center in February published the results of an investigation documenting adverse differential treatment against older same-sex couples seeking housing in senior living communities.
The Many Facets of the ‘Greatest Generation’
Kregel notes that many gay senior living residents between 70 and 90 years old are part of a generation that “kept their lifestyle very quiet. …This is a great opportunity where these folks can come in and live in the community and be open about who they are. Many won’t have to hide it any more.”
SAGE Director of National Field Initiatives Serena Worthington agrees: “It’s a generational issue – it was illegal to be gay and previously could have gotten you dismissed from the military, for example. Many members of this generation have experienced repression and discrimination.” Both Kregel and Worthington said they believe that as more Baby Boomers move into senior living communities across the country, there will be a greater acceptance of LGBT residents due to a greater acceptance among that generation.
Government Funds LGBT Technical Assistance Resource Center
The center worked with SAGE, or Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders to put together the study. SAGE oversees the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, the country’s first technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and support offered to this community of older Americans. The resource center was established in 2010 through a $900,000 three-year federal grant from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. In July, it received another two-year grant to continue to operate and grow. The number of LGBT older adults is expected to double to about 3 million by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Overall, I think the diversity conversation is really important right now,” Worthington said. “People need to be ready for diversity of religion and ethnic identities too. One in five older adults right now is non-white and by 2030 that’s going to be one in three.”
A 2012 study from the National Health & Aging Center asked more than 2,500 LGBT adults ranging in age from 50 to 95 to participate in a national study and 66 percent identified senior housing as being the most needed service with about half calling for tailored assisted living communities.
Training Resources for Senior Living Communities
Kregel, who expects the new community to open in September, describes it as a 25-unit “high-end” boutique-style residence with typical amenities found at most senior living communities such as resident engagement programs and dining services. And like orientation for new employees at any professionally managed community, the company provides sensitivity training. “There’s really not a whole lot different [at Stonewall] than other communities. The care is similar and we base our activity program on resident interests,” he said.
SAGE, which works in concert with 10 other organizations on the national resource center, continually receives requests from cities and states for LGBT cultural competency training and trains individuals to serve as training corps to work with aging providers and others.
The Administration for Community Living along with CMS and the resource center also recently released a new online learning tool Building Respect for LGBT Older Adults, designed to raise awareness of the issues faced by LGBT individuals living in long-term care communities. The National Resource Center’s most popular guide, A Practice Guide to Creating Welcome Agencies is now available in Spanish, Servicios Inclusivos Para Personas Mayores LGBT.
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