I was in London a few years ago and I saw a sign up on the metro that said, “Nobody should have Nobody.” It was for senior citizens who were left alone for long periods of time with nobody visiting or spending time with them. The ad had a profound effect on me and I thought that it serves as a good reminder to those working in social and public housing. Very often low-income seniors end up living in social housing because they have no one and nothing to fall back onto. To make their life’s as engaging and active as possible. All social housing organizations should consider bringing in new and innovative programs. Here are some ideas to consider.
- Create a Jobs Program: Many public and social housing organizations focus on work-able residents. Because of that there is often a lack of focus on senior and disabled residents. Why not find some residents in their golden years who might be interested in working and helping out in some way shape or form. For example an organization in New York puts seniors to work in various ways. A program called ReServe brings in seniors to help work with patients with dementia even in care roles. This often works really well because the elderly helping are closer in age to those who are not well. There is no reason that a social or public housing organization could not help locate similar work roles for elderly living within properties.
- Partner with University to Create Health Program: Universities are ripe with students who want to change the world. Why not reach out to the local university and find out if there are programs where students need internships, college credits ect for their programs. There are students trying to become gym teachers, physical therapists, trainers and many other positions that need hands on experience. Many seniors do not get the exercise and health advice they need. This can lead to disease, depression and loneliness. Time to reach out and make the partnerships!
- Create a Coffee Shop in the Community Room: Let’s take a page from the Germans. In Hannover, they have created mini-coffee shops within affordable housing complexes for the elderly. These spots are warm, inviting and often have people working at them. This creates a place where people want to go instead of a vacant unorganized space that is hardly used. Some housing authorities in Germany even make these coffee shops a neighborhood place and allow outsiders to come in to connect residents with more people.
- Free Rent to Two Social Work Students: This is in the same vain as the idea to on fitness and health. Why not partner with a social work program at a community college or university and let two students live in a senior building rent free? They would have an obligation of providing 40-50 hours a month of senior programming and help. They would serve as a resource to the community and work with the seniors to integrate different programs into their day to day life’s.
- Get Corporate Sponsorship for Field Trips: Social housing providers are not banks, that much is clear. However; there are real banks probably within striking distance of your senior buildings. Why not reach out and see if they or another business would consider sponsoring a building for a trip. I am not talking about Disney World, maybe the local zoo, museum, park, lake. It does not really matter. What is important is many seniors and disabled do not get the chance to ever leave home because of the lack of funds. A few trips a year could make a huge difference in morale.
Conclusion: You do not need to do all of the things listed above but experimenting with one or a few of these just might improve the living situations of your seniors. Remember that those living out their golden years in social housing deserve to do so with dignity and respect. A little extra help and concentration can help your agency do so.