For years now Tom Anderson and his husband, Aaron Lake, have been caring for Anderson’s gay great uncle in Germany. The two became close when Anderson studied in Munich a decade ago, and the couple regularly travels overseas to visit him.
“We can fly over there because of my husband’s job,” said Anderson, as Lake is a pilot for United Airlines. “We go there to help him physically and emotionally. We really are the only family members he is in contact with.”
Anderson, 29, is a demographer, researcher, and adjunct professor at Colorado University Boulder. He and Lake, 38, live in Denver and this spring launched a company called A Place For Everybody with the aim of matching older LGBT adults with suitable assisted care facilities or supportive senior living communities in their area.
“We’ve witnessed first hand the massive challenges older LGBT adults face when looking for senior living communities,” Anderson told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview.
They partnered with fellow Denver resident Spencer Imel, 34, a straight ally who runs an organic online clothing company, to start the venture, which went live in May with a website and call-in number. Since then they have decided to focus solely on assisted living placements and not independent living, though it created a special page on its website at www.aplaceforeverybody.com/everybody with information for those seniors looking for such accommodations.
“We decided to restrict our placement service to assisted living for two reasons: 1) they are a more vulnerable group of people, as they often need medical, social, and physical care; and 2) our team has knowledge and expertise in the assisted living space,” explained Anderson in a recent email.
The service is free for LGBT seniors or their caregivers, as A Place For Everybody is funded through commissions it receives when its clients move into one of the assisted living or long-term care communities it recommended.
“Referral fees are pretty standard in this space. We are going to be paid no matter what,” said Anderson. “Residents’ interests we place first and ensure we are placing them in a place where they are going to thrive. There is no way we can create a sustainable service long-term if we are not placing residents’ interests first.”
Their main objective, said Anderson, is making sure they are recommending places that are LGBT-friendly and not somewhere an LGBT senior will feel they need to return to the closet and can’t be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The core of this is the real need in the LGBTQ community for older adults to find housing where they can be comfortable, can be out and visible and proud,” he said. “There is no service now vetting communities that way.”
National advocacy groups SAGE, short for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the LGBT political organization’s nonprofit arm, are working on a new Long-Term Care Equality Index that would rate long-term residential providers across the country on their LGBT inclusivity. It is modeled after HRC’s equality indexes on major businesses and state and local governments.
The two agencies have been asking long-term care providers to complete a self-assessment that can be found on the project’s website at http://thelei.org/. It lays out how they can update their policies and procedures to ensure they are meeting the needs of LGBT seniors.
SAGE also offers the SAGECare program to help train service providers on the needs of the LGBT seniors. It has a specific training for facilities located in California that are required by state law to bi-annually train their staff on LGBT cultural competency.
The nonprofit agency also awards SAGE LGBT service credentials to providers that it certifies are LGBT-welcoming. In June, timed to Pride month, Watermark Retirement Communities announced its Lakeside Park property in Oakland had become California’s first exclusively memory care community to earn the SAGE Platinum credential.
The company’s Watermark by the Bay, a 143-residence assisted living and memory care facility in Emeryville, also earned a SAGE Platinum Credential. It is part of a push by Watermark to become the first national senior living and care company to have all of its communities earn top Platinum credentials from SAGE.
“SAGE training has increased awareness for all of us, about the unique challenges that LGBT seniors face,” stated Cheryl Martin, executive director of Lakeside Park and the Watermark by the Bay, in announcing the credentials. “We have learned techniques to balance openness with respect for privacy as well as more inclusive language. We can now go beyond being a warm, welcoming environment to communities with deeper cultural understanding of the perspectives of LGBT individuals, their partners, families and friends.”
Does a senior living community train its staff on the needs of LGBT seniors is one of the questions A Place For Everybody inquires about when researching potential properties for its clients, said Anderson. Other criteria it uses in vetting properties include if it flies a Pride flag on site; does it have current LGBT residents and, if so, how many; and does it provide LGBT-focused programming.
They will also ask what role, if any, does religion play in the facility or community, said Anderson. They also try to speak with both LGBT and straight residents about their experiences, he said, and to staff such as the activities director.
Putting information together
“We put information together to determine whether a community is friendly for a perspective LGBT resident,” said Anderson. “A lot of this is done over the phone. We are a small team and can’t be everywhere.”
When an LGBT senior or their relative or care provider contacts A Place For Everybody, they are first asked a series of questions about their situation and what type of senior living facility or community they are looking to move into. That information is then used to determine which facilities to contact in their area.
Within two weeks they will be presented with a list of places that A Place For Everybody has determined are likely to be good fits, said Anderson. The person can then contact the facilities directly or A Place For Everybody will schedule site visits for them.
“A lot of LGBT older folks are alone and they can be incredibly nervous and anxious calling different communities and asking them questions,” said Anderson. “We serve as that third party and can help them feel comfortable and safe in all of their interactions.”
As of now the service is a side project for Anderson and his husband, though the couple hopes to see it grow into a successful entity.
“We are providing more personal support for individuals to walk them through the process and find them a community where they can be out and proud and that fits their needs,” said Anderson.
To learn more about the company, visit its website at https://www.aplaceforeverybody.com/