Graying gays face a growing problem

Posted on 10 Feb 2011 at 1:03pm

The sad story of one longtime activist left homeless and alone highlights the many issues facing our aging LGBT population

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Imagine being old, sick, confused and alone without a roof over your head when winter weather arrives. That’s exactly what happened late last year to a well-known gay political activist who had lived in Oak Lawn for many years.

It’s unclear how much he actually understood about his circumstances because he was suffering from either the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of dementia — a condition that left him unable to survive alone or to seek help.

After he came to the attention of a Dallas Police Department social worker, who tried to locate help for him, the activist eventually was admitted to a residential facility where he is now receiving the care he needs.

A plea for information about the identity of his family members, published last year by the Dallas Voice at the request of the social worker, went unanswered. The activist had mentioned in the past he was the father of a grown son, but he has never been located, according to the social worker.

The only response to the newspaper’s blog post was from an individual who had found photographs and others of the activist’s belongings on a curb and wanted to return them to him. Someone apparently had dumped the items there after the activist was evicted from his apartment sometime last year.

The activist had been on the streets for months when law enforcement officers picked him up because he allegedly had tried to break into a car.

The activist may have been confused and only seeking shelter in the car, the social worker said.

He was arrested and taken to jail, where a nurse who realized he was suffering from dementia sought help from the Police Department’s crisis intervention department.

It’s shocking that someone who had run for political office on the Democratic Party ticket, worked with police and other local officials to benefit the community and participated in so many other LGBT endeavors could wind up helpless and on the streets.

Neighbors of the activist contacted the social worker when the Dallas Voice blog post was published and informed her about his eviction. She suspects that he may have gotten evicted because his dementia left him too disorganized to pay rent and take care of his personal business.

The activist’s story reveals that there doesn’t appear to be many resources dedicated specifically to LGBT seniors in Dallas. That’s a cause for great concern because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to become estranged from their families than are their straight counterparts.

In years past a few concerned people tried to raise interest in a local LGBT retirement community of townhouses, apartments and a full-care facility that would serve people of all financial situations. But they failed to make any headway after repeated tries.

Resource Center Dallas sponsors a program for LGBT seniors, but its focus is learning, entertainment and social activities, according to the organization’s website.

If there are any local organizations sponsoring outreach to LGBT seniors who need help surviving, they failed to make contact with the homeless activist before police officers put him in jail.

Some of his neighbors — one of whom had let him stay in her apartment several nights — apparently were concerned about his welfare but had no idea where to turn to find him help.

In comparison, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Senior Services program employs four workers to assist gay people 50 and older with social, educational and support issues. About 70 events are held monthly at the center, which is a much larger and older operation than the one in Dallas.

The case management services and referrals sponsored by the Los Angeles group’s program addresses affordable housing, benefits, home health assistance, bereavement, isolation, mental health and legal issues, according to the organization’s website.

The Los Angeles center’s operation is a good model for Dallas’ center to consider implementing — especially in the area of senior services — as its leaders look to the future. The number of aging LGBT people is only going to grow in the coming years as baby boomers continue to mature. It only makes sense to support the idea of providing services to our community’s older population because everyone who lives long enough is going to grow old eventually.

And anyone who hasn’t started planning for their future ought to take a lesson from what happened to the activist and start thinking along those lines.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

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