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    Join Us in Building a Community We Can Be Proud of at Any Age

    By Karyn Skultety–

    San Francisco is the birth place of the LGBTQ movement. These are the streets where the leaders of our community were made and where our march towards justice began. On a warm night in August of 1966, the Compton Cafeteria Riots marked the moment our community came together and said “no more.” Drag queens and transgender women, tired of being harassed by the police and neighbors, rose up and joined together saying that they would no longer tolerate the abuse and discrimination that were a part of their daily lives.

    In the days, weeks, and years that followed, our community was born and this was one of many marches in the fight for our freedom. In 1977, we elected Harvey Milk. In 1978, we defeated the Briggs Initiative. Throughout the 80s and 90s, our community led the response to the AIDS crisis—forming the San Francisco AIDS foundation, the AIDS Memorial Quilt: The Names Project, and the National Grove. We also protested by acting up and shutting down the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2004, when others said that it wasn’t the time, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin stood in City Hall and were announced spouses for life. In 2008, they did it all over again legally as the rest of the country watched. These are, of course, only snapshots of the decades of activism and heroism that make up our shared history.

    So, do we believe that our history makes a difference? Do we believe that it makes us richer, stronger, and more able to lead the fight today for our community? Think of what is lost if those moments, lessons, and leaders are allowed to disappear, and to become memories at best. Now, contrast that to who we can be as a community if those experiences, stories, and leaders are central in our lives and our fight for social justice. At Openhouse, we believe that we can, and should, harness the power of perspective aging brings to make our community stronger and to ensure this city and this community remain a leader in the LGBTQ movement.

    But we have our work cut out for us and we cannot do it alone. Profound income inequality, a lack of affordable and safe housing, and the threat of eviction are stripping this community of its heroes. Over 30% of seniors in San Francisco are living in poverty—a number that has dramatically increased in the past 4 years and is higher for LGBTQ people. Even more tragic, we know health disparities, violence, discrimination and income inequality are amplified for many in our community. When seniors are forced to move out of our city, they lose their family of choice and their city of freedom, and we lose our leaders. When transgender people and people of color are not aging alongside the rest of our community, we lose our power, our richness, and our collective force. Are we a community without lived history? How do we imagine a future without connections to generations of the past?

    We need your help to build a strong community. We aren’t just fighting for a place for people to live, and for high quality care. We are fighting for older people to be seen and central in our lives. Ageism, the idea that older people are less valuable than youth, is a powerful force. It sets up “us and them” as if we will never grow older. It is the force that keeps us scared of using the word “senior.” It is the force that keeps younger people from talking to, or learning from, those older than them. When we realize that LGBTQ seniors are more likely to live alone and are less likely to have children than other seniors, ageism is the force that allows us simply to accept their loneliness and isolation as inevitable.

    We must be a community that fights ageism. We must decide that isolation is unacceptable for anyone in our family of choice. At Openhouse, we are actively ending isolation by engaging older people into a community of support. For some, community starts with one connection—a Friendly Visitor who comes into your home twice a month and reminds you that you are not alone. We currently have a wait list of individuals asking for that connection. There is tremendous power from even a single visit. Over half of those served by our Friendly Visitor program go from being cut off from the LGBTQ community to regularly engaging in Openhouse community groups and events.

    In fact, many of our engagement programs are led by community members and volunteers, rather than staff. When people transform from isolation to feeling a part of something bigger, it allows leadership to flourish and brings others out looking for a place to connect. We can build a place where community awaits people of all ages with open arms—and that experience, in the face of ageism, is powerful. We have watched the power connection can have, as Openhouse large events (Fall Feast, Pride parties and more!) have become intergenerational celebrations, where seniors are not only central to the party, but are also cheered on by those who are looking up to, and learning from, them. Imagine a community fueled by the power of intergenerational perspectives.

    Your support and belief in community allowed Openhouse to complete the first LGBTQ-welcoming senior affordable housing in San Francisco. It is your support now that will ensure we finish our dream by building a community center integrated into the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Community with 79 more housing units. But beyond building walls, we all need to work to ensure we aren’t building yet another closet. If our housing and our program space becomes a place only for seniors, we have again sent a message that it’s best for our seniors, our heroes, to stay away from the rest of us. If instead we think of Openhouse as a beacon calling individuals of all ages to come together, to celebrate our history, and to fully realize the power of perspective from aging—then we have built a true community center.

    We can be a community where older people are central in our lives and in our fight for social justice. But we can’t do it alone. Join us in building the kind of community we want to be: a community we can be proud of at every age.

    Karyn Skultety is the Executive Director of Openhouse.


    Openhouse Programs

    By Natalie Summers

    In the 2016–17 fiscal year, Openhouse served 2,324 unduplicated LGBT seniors through our housing and innovative programs. Our programs and activities are free of charge to the community, and are supported by government and foundation grants, and individual gifts.

    Program offerings include:

    Community Engagement

    These programs are aimed at reducing isolation and building community connection for LGBT seniors. Offerings are co-created with seniors and engage volunteers, to build a thriving intergenerational LGBT community

    Friendly Visitors: We recruit, train and match motivated volunteers with isolated LGBT seniors, to provide companionship and emotional support through biweekly visits to their homes.

    Education Classes: We offer a variety of lifelong learning opportunities—ranging from languages to history classes to computer literacy. Our language classes are incredibly popular, allowing participants to build both new linguistic skills and community around shared cultural traditions

    Meal programs: Our popular Rainbow Lunch and Women’s Lunch Bunch bring seniors together to share a meal, meet for social connection, and to make new friends in a safe and welcoming space. The staff and volunteers serve lunch and introduce different themes and topics of discussion, to encourage participants to share and connect with others.

    Activities/Interest Groups: Openhouse offers a wide range of activities, often led by seniors, to connect community members with shared interests, talents and hobbies. Senior-led groups include our Saturday games group, art group, Women of Color book club and opera group.

    Special Events/Community Gatherings: Openhouse hosts several special events throughout the year for groups ranging from 30 to 200 seniors. Our large events—our annual Fall Feast and LGBT Senior Pride Prom—focus on celebrating our seniors, while bringing in the larger intergenerational LGBT community to benefit from their wisdom and carry on their legacies.

    Resource Navigation and Referrals

    Navigating the network of aging services is a daunting process. Our resource navigation and referral services ensure LGBT seniors can identify appropriate and supportive services.

    Our Information & Assistance Specialist provides guidance, referrals, and follow-up on a full-range of senior services throughout the Bay Area. In addition, our Housing Assistance program offers workshops, one-on-one counseling, and email and phone alerts on new housing opportunities.

    Support and Wellness Programs

    Support and Wellness programs ensure that seniors’ psychosocial, health, and wellness needs are being addressed.

    Case Management

    Our Case Manager and Resident Service Navigator provide care coordination, referrals, emotional support, and home visits. Interventions promote early detection of health issues, housing stabilization, access to vital services, and support to overcome isolation.

    Health & Wellness Classes

    Openhouse encourages positive mental and physical aging through health education classes, wellness promotion seminars, and exercise groups, such as Tai Chi, Yoga and mindfulness groups.

    Emotional Support

    Support groups address depression, anxiety, and long-standing distress and trauma for LGBT seniors and caregivers, providing a safe and supportive space in which they can share their challenges.

    In addition, for those who may need more intensive support, Openhouse provides direct referrals and connections to individual psychotherapy sessions with one of our two psychology post-doctoral fellows from Access Institute for Psychological Services.

    Natalie Summers is the Mission Engagement Manager at Openhouse.