LGBTQ2S Seniors housing an important need in our community

For many seniors, the question of housing can be a difficult one. It can be hard to contemplate giving up independence, but living independently can lead to social isolation. The answers to these questions have to be decided by seniors and their families on a case by case basis. For between 4,700 - 12,000 Edmonton seniors, their sexuality adds another layer of complexity to housing decisions.

In their lifetimes, LGTBQ seniors have witnessed a massive cultural shift in society’s perception of homosexuality. They may have experienced discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation, or may be coming to terms with their identity in their later years.

While attitudes in society at large have changed, LGBTQ seniors continue to face many unique challenges. Most seniors housing is not set up to accommodate LGBTQ people. Seniors centres may not be prepared to accommodate same-sex couples and staff may lack the training to understand some of the unique health concerns of members of the LGTBQ community. They may also face hostility or discrimination from staff or other residents.

In partnership with the Edmonton Pride Seniors group, the City of Edmonton is beginning to look at ways we could address this gap in seniors housing. Our administration is conducting a feasibility study to assess options to meet the unique needs of LGTBQ seniors.

LGTBQ-friendly seniors housing could take different forms: it could be as simple as providing thorough education to staff to ensure they understand the needs of LGTBQ seniors and techniques to manage conflicts among residents. It could also mean providing LGTBQ-designated sections within existing seniors housing, or, if there was enough demand, building separate housing for LGTBQ seniors.

I’m wary of the last two options, as we’d run the risk of ghettoizing LGTBQ people in separate accommodations. But if members of that community advise us they would feel more comfortable and supported in those type of residences, then it’s worth considering.

We expect City Administration to return to Council with an assessment of the options in early spring of next year after completing thorough consultations and a needs assessment. Our Council has also committed to lobbying to the province and the federal government to get their assistance with this initiative.

In Ward 10, an opportunity to advance the work of this assessment exists in Keheewin through the current engagement work already underway for the surplus school site there. This site is unique in that its neighbour is Southminister Steinhauer United Church, which was the first affirming congregation within the United Church of Canada in Alberta, and has expressed interest in working with the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Pride Seniors group and the surrounding community to explore the possibility of a safe LGBTQ senior space on the surplused school site.

LGTBQ-friendly seniors housing is still a rarity in Canada, which means we have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on this issue. We need to walk the talk on our commitment to diversity and inclusivity by actively working with the seniors community to answer these difficult questions.

Also, you can read here about an interesting project in Manchester England.