Senior Services 2005 and Beyond


Seniors may be living longer these days, but they still need services. Recently, two seniors asked me for assistance to expedite resolution of problems they confronted.

In the first case, she was confused about her appointments and couldn’t read the forms the clinic gave her. I made about a dozen phone calls to my friend’s health-care provider and two clinic visits. Later, the doctors surmised her medicine was too strong, causing the confusion.

The second neighbor I helped was Carolyn Smith, a senior Section 8 Voucher holder who has heart trouble, crippling arthritis and cannot hear well. She has had multiple problems settling down to adequate living arrangements. Presumably, the CHAC service providers were there to help her.

But between the years 2003 and 2005, she was forced to make multiple moves to new dwellings at her own expense. For her, the costs were considerable since she has meager savings and lives on a fixed income.

Her story is that landlords were not paid due to CHAC computer errors. CHAC’s share of the rent was mailed to wrong addresses. Smith’s landlords, as a consequence, did not get paid. Smith confirms that CHAC hurried to correct the problem and she doesn’t blame the agency specifically for the high-tech glitch. She’s not resentful toward CHAC.

However, she continues to seek help from the courts in order to get refunds for the multiple security deposits she paid to different landlords. Smith will probably lose all the money she spent on costs associated with moving.

She feels it is unfortunate that she has had to go to court to get refunds on her deposits from the particular landlords concerned.

After schlepping around town with my neighbors’ documents and letters, I discovered there were social service and activist groups well-informed and suitably skilled to handle the problems of both these senior ladies.

Gary Arnold at Access Living, a group that advocates for disability rights, said their organization’s Civil Rights Intake Department most likely could have made Smith’s situation easier. At the very least, Smith should not have been left entirely to her own resources in her attempts to correct her problems with CHAC. Arnold assured me that Access Living’s services are open to all people with disabilities, including seniors.

“We at Access Living often collaborate with groups outside the disability community on different projects. Whether they be housing, or healthcare issues, we make an effort to network with senior groups. For example, we work with groups like Metro Seniors in Action, the Jane Adams Senior Caucus and El Valor,” Arnold said.

As it turns out, Access Living shares similar interests with some of these other groups even when not jointly targeting specific projects. Seniors receiving SSI benefits and seniors with disabilities alike have the option of taking advantage of services available through Access Living.

There are at least five different categories of services offered through the organization: housing, civil rights intake, healthcare, youth and education, and consumer services. Consumer services include peer support group information and referrals. Anyone requiring technical information about the use of prosthetics or wheelchairs, for example, would most likely be directed to consumer services.

In addition to working with seniors with disabilities, Access Living is training disabled youth as leaders of their communities. They expect this training will provide the opportunity for more disabled youths to engage in community activism and politics.

Another group, El Valor, is working with a significant Latino base. El Valor’s branch on the Far South East Side of Chicago at 92nd and Houston proves that their ecumenical welcome mat is spread for all of Chicago’s diverse communities; African-American, Asian, Latinos, as well as those of European ancestry. El Valor has been around for at least thirty years and serves a total of around 2,000 families annually.

Dona Carmen, El Valor’s media spokesperson, explained that “we are a well-rounded organization, not focusing entirely on one single aspect of the community, but rather we target the community as a whole.”

She said the organization provides services to older adults and children from birth to five with special needs as well as youth enrichment after-school programs to children of school age.

“Our senior service department is also large, primarily because we provide a space where seniors may actually come and work. Part of what we do is we have an intake procedure which allows us to find jobs for those seniors with special needs,” Carmen told me. They also seek outside contracts with companies to employ seniors at their facilities.

Rhea Byers-Ettinger, lead organizer at Metro-Seniors in Action, explained that her organization also offers a number of services to seniors, including affordable housing assistance. Currently, Metro Seniors in Action is partnered with the Balanced Development Coalition. Together they are in support of the Preckwinkle-Burnett plan for affordable housing outlined in the ordinance which Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) jointly sponsored and placed before city council.

“What we want to have is an ordinance that will automatically allow for 15 percent of all new development in the City of Chicago to be set aside for affordable housing,” Byers-Ettindger said. “In the case of seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes, implying that their incomes do not rise comparatively along with the rising costs of housing, there needs to be some mechanism put forth insuring that seniors will have some place to live in Chicago.”

These groups belie the notion that no one is out there advocating and organizing senior citizens. Every senior should feel confident to contact these groups and get the help they need.

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