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    COVID-19 and Emergency Relief

    By Dr. Marcy Adelman–

    The COVID-19 disease is causing a worldwide health crisis that impacts every one of us. It should come as no surprise that older adults stand the highest risk for infection as well as for the severity of symptoms. The combination of age coupled with underlying or chronic health conditions makes seniors extremely vulnerable to the ravages of this deadly virus.

    Knowing that different communities require specially tailored responses to this crisis, we understand that LGBTQ seniors have particular needs—unique to our lives—which must be considered when policies and programs are developed to serve us.

    Thankfully, the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS) conducted an equity analysis (November 2018) that created a road map for navigating even the unanticipated COVID-19 health crisis with the most effective policies and programs designed to support and serve LGBTQ older adults. 

    The DAS study found that one in five LGBTQ seniors feels unsafe and/or unwelcome in aging services that serve the general population, and that LGBTQ seniors are significantly more likely to access services when provided by LGBTQ senior-serving agencies. 

    One of the most significant findings of the study revealed that the majority of LGBTQ older clients (61%) live alone, compared to 39% in the overall senior client population, and 69% percent of LGBT adults with disabilities (age 18–59) live alone, compared to 53% in the general population. As we know from prior studies, any senior who lives alone is at greater risk for an additional subset of problems: isolation, increased risk of mental and physical health issues, and potential exploitation and abuse.  

    Thus, in this crisis, it is imperative that the City of San Francisco and the State of California invest emergency resources in LGBTQ senior-serving community nonprofit partners, to reduce barriers to accessing emergency resources. Hand in hand with emergency funding is the need for direct outreach to LGBTQ older adults so that they can be informed and motivated to make use of this desperately needed supplemental aid. Obviously, the goal of reaching LGBTQ seniors can be effectively accomplished by utilizing LGBTQ media. 

    At the same time, foundations need to be proactive and support the typically under-resourced community nonprofits. Towards that goal, the Horizons Foundation has created emergency grants to Bay Area LGBTQ nonprofits that are on the frontlines supporting those at higher risk: LGBTQ older adults, people living with HIV, and those who are without housing. We need more foundations to follow their example. 

    In addition, Bay Area corporations need to step up to the plate and directly support LGBTQ community nonprofits that have had to quickly transition from in-person contact and services to remotely serving and supporting their clients. This emergency support for LGBTQ nonprofits could be provided in a variety of ways: cash grants, IT support, new hardware, software, and pro bono consultation. 

    Finally, we need the philanthropic community members, who have been so generous to our community’s direct services and arts organizations, to be proactive. Now is the time to support the LGBTQ nonprofit whose work you feel passionately about. While we are all sheltering in place, there will be few mailers, e-newsletters, and no social events to help raise funds. I urge you all to act now, and support LGBTQ senior serving organizations through their websites.

    Dr. Marcy Adelman, a psychologist and LGBTQ+ longevity advocate and policy adviser, oversees the Aging in Community column. She serves on the California Commission on Aging, the Governor’s Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force, the Board of the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California, and the San Francisco Dignity Fund Oversight and Advisory Committee. She is the Co-Founder of Openhouse, the only San Francisco nonprofit exclusively focused on the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ older adults.

    Published on April 9, 2020