Opinion: California needs a plan for LGBTQ seniors

November 8, 2018

Opinion: California needs a plan for LGBTQ seniors

By Senator Scott Wiener and Karyn Skultety
San Francisco Chronicle
November 8, 2018

Of the many issues and challenges that Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and the Legislature will be required to confront, one that rarely gets the attention it deserves is the growth of our senior population. By the year 2030, there will be 4 million new seniors in California. We are not prepared to deal with the fiscal and social costs that this growth will incur.

Recognizing the urgency of this issue, Newsom called for the development of a “master plan for aging with dignity” after California’s June primary election. We heartily agree and enthusiastically support state leaders prioritizing older adults and coming up with solutions to California’s looming senior care crisis. But we have our work cut out for us.

In California, 20 percent of seniors live in poverty. In San Francisco, that number jumps to 30 percent. A lack of affordable and safe housing, the threat of eviction and profound income inequality are stripping this community of its heroes.

While all of the state’s seniors face similar problems as they age, such as access to health care, long-term care affordability, economic security and affordable housing, LGBTQ seniors experience amplified challenges.

One of these challenges is ensuring they will be able to receive equal access to support services as they age. Reports show that LGBTQ seniors are not using existing long-term care and aging services. Another is the very real fear that if they are no longer able to care for themselves and are at risk of losing housing or facing eviction, they could be forced to deny who they are if living in a care facility is their only option.

This fear is justified.

Research tells us that LGBTQ seniors face discrimination and mistreatment in long-term care facilities. According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center, 78 percent of LGBTQ Americans felt it would be unsafe to be “out” in a care facility and 43 percent reported personally witnessing or knowing individuals who experienced instances of mistreatment. For transgender seniors, these risks are even higher.

To address this particular issue, I, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, worked hand-in-hand with the LGBT Aging Policy Taskforce to create and implement an LGBT senior bill of rights in long-term care facilities. This ordinance requires staff in long-term care facilities to respect the dignity of all LGBT residents, and made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual and gender identity, as well as on HIV status. Last year my SB219 placed the protections from the San Francisco ordinance into state law, and ensures LGBT seniors throughout our state know their rights when entering long-term care facilities.

In California especially, an “out” senior shouldn’t have to choose between living on the streets and feeling unsafe in a nursing home or assisted living facility. More than 40 percent of LGBTQ seniors don’t even feel comfortable using housing assistance programs.

People of all ages and backgrounds share a common goal: to age in the place they call home, surrounded by people they love, in a community where they feel they belong. One of the most basic necessities of life is having a roof over one’s head and one that is affordable. In California — as you all know — affordable housing is scarce. Senior housing is even more limited. And, senior housing for LGBTQ Californians is almost nonexistent.

Now is the time for the state to develop a master plan for aging that truly meets the needs of all Californians.

Former San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener represents San Francisco in the state Senate and serves as chair of the Senate Human Services Committee. Karyn Skultety is the executive director of Openhouse, a nonprofit that provides housing, services and community for LGBTQ seniors.

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