Vancouverite rallies support for affordable housing complex for LGBT seniors

Social worker Alex Sangha is rallying support for a proposal to build a unique housing development targeted at gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and two-spirited seniors in Vancouver.

Sangha indicated he’s hoping to fill a gap in services with the creation of an affordable housing complex and day program specifically for LGBT seniors in the city.

“There’s affordable housing for every demographic under the sun except gay and lesbian people, and I think why should they not have something for them when they are so discriminated and in many cases alienated and isolated in society, especially seniors who are gay and lesbian,” he stated in a phone interview with the Straight. “They don’t often have children, they don’t often have family. So who’s going to take care of them? Are they going to be alone?”

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According to Sangha, some gay and lesbian seniors opt to stay at home rather than go into a care facility if they fear discrimination there.

“So what is happening is they’re staying at home,” he said. “They don’t want to go to these facilities and it’s a health and safety risk for them. They’re staying at home to the point where they can’t even take care of themselves.”

In a draft discussion paper that Sangha prepared on the proposed seniors complex, dubbed Dignity House, he indicated that LGBTT seniors and elders have higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide, and are at high risk of social isolation.

“LGBTT seniors are an invisible group,” he wrote. “The seniors care system often does not provide culturally sensitive services. As a result, many LGBTT seniors are forced to go back in the closet for fear of bias, discrimination, or rejection by their caregivers.”

Sangha is working with the Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society to develop the Dignity House proposal. He said he’s currently trying to raise about $25,000 to get a needs assessment and financial feasibility study completed for the project. He noted he’s also hoping to recruit supporters to cast their vote in favour of a grant for the project through the AVIVA Community Fund contest, which is currently in the first round of voting.

“Basically, once a need has been established for Dignity House and it’s financially feasible and we have an idea of how many units, the location and all that, then I’m going to set up a community advisory committee…where stakeholders, people from the community, they can all give feedback and advice on what kind of facility they would like,” he explained.

Sangha added he envisions the facility as not just an affordable-housing complex for gay and lesbian residents, but for other supportive seniors that wish to live there.

“I call it [Dignity House] for a broader reason,” he explained. “I want gay and lesbian people to feel they’re a part of a community where they can make connections, where they know their neighbours, kind of like a co-housing concept where you live and have shared common spaces.”

“And it’s also about developing friendships and developing relationships and having a good retirement,” he added.

According to Sangha, the concept of Dignity House isn’t new. Similar gay and lesbian affordable housing developments already exist in major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Montreal.

Sangha is currently completing his master’s in social work at Dalhousie University. He is also the founder and spokesperson for Sher Vancouver, a social, cultural and support organization for LGBTT South Asians.