We are less than 90 days away from opening the new LGBT-friendly affordable senior apartments here in Philadelphia, the John C. Anderson Apartments (JCAA). But don't cheer for us just yet.
The $19.5-million construction project might have gone up in record time with record support from elected officials, community and governmental departments, but in all that rush there was an important lesson that we learned along the way. Note the description of the building and that word "affordable."
Getting to this point has been for us a long road that included numerous studies of our community, from which we realized the need for affordable housing for our seniors. But what we were not prepared for was how isolated and in the closet many of those who needed this building really are.
How many of us can truly say we have knowledge of the financial needs in our community? Better yet, how many of us know people in our community who make less than the average income? Before this project, I can assure you that, while I knew there was a need, I didn't know the extent of the problems.
There's no need here to go through all the government red tape involved with this project or the process to be approved. Last week, we discovered an approved applicant who, once approved, had no knowledge on how to move her government-living voucher from where she currently lives (not an LGBT-friendly place), and had no idea whom to contact.
We assumed that our residents would have that knowledge. Here's what we discovered: LGBT people with limited incomes are not out about their financial hardships to our community, and LGBT people who have not lived within the gayborhood or LGBT ghetto are afraid to contact their social-services representative and out themselves. Some just live where they are no matter the condition or treatment rather than come out, sometimes for fear that a bureaucrat will lecture them or toss them off the program.
We've seen and heard this before, but seniors are taken advantage of, and that includes LGBT seniors. The point is, some LGBT people are afraid to out themselves to non-gay bureaucratic government officials, or out themselves as income-challenged to their own community. Additionally, they feel neither will appreciate their needs since no one has, or the level of understanding has been limited until this point. They have major fears and mistrust.
Here's the silver lining: our HIV/AIDS and health organizations already have that knowledge, and since they are partnering with us, they stepped up to the plate. We're on the way to creating that safe and dignified place for our seniors to live, regardless of financial needs.
This continues to be a pioneering project, but what we have learned thus far is that we need to share this project with the community and tell seniors that not only can they come home, but we can show them the way, by delivering the services they deserve.