If you follow this blog, you know that the Elder Abuse Prevention Project is highly invested in community partnerships as the most effective means of combating elder abuse. We have spent the past year highlighting different community partners who truly are the “Heart and Soul of Elder Abuse Prevention.” It is fitting that we end 2016 with one more incredibly valuable partner whose work over the last several decades with homeless and at risk elders in Boston has been truly exemplary – Eileen O’Brien, Director of the Boston Medical Center’s Elders Living at Home Program.
What Is the ELAHP?
Since December 1986, Boston Medical Center’s Elders Living at Home Program (ELAHP) has been providing intensive case management services to homeless and at-risk individuals age 55+, with the goal of helping them transition to and maintain safe, affordable permanent housing. Our goal is to provide supportive services that build on the individual abilities of elders and help them to overcome barriers to stable housing. Thirty years later, we have served more than 4,000 of these individuals. In the vast majority of these cases, we were not only able to help them resolve their housing crisis, but also improve their health and support them in living full and meaningful lives. I am the Director of ELAHP, and I have worked professionally in the field of aging for 35 years.
How Does Elder Abuse Contribute to Elder Homelessness?
There are a number of reasons why older adults face housing instability. Financial hardship and declining health are two of the biggest causes, and often these two factors combine. A third factor, which has become even more common in the past several years, is elder abuse. Elders can, and many times do, lose their housing because of abuse or exploitation by a caregiver or family member. This happens due to financial exploitation—older adults are unable to pay their bills, including rent, mortgage or utilities because someone is stealing from them or in some way financially exploiting them. In other instances, family members or others may move into the homes or apartments of their elderly relatives, not only jeopardizing their safety and well-being, but endangering their tenancies by causing lease violations. This is one of the ways that the opioid crisis has affected older adults. Adult children and grandchildren who become addicted to heroin or other similar drugs prey on older relatives financially, and/or create serious problems for them by conducting illegal activities in their homes and apartments. This is a very overlooked aspect of the crisis, but one that has serious consequences for older adults’ housing stability, health and well-being.
How Do You Focus on Prevention?
In recent years, ELAHP has put a greater emphasis on homelessness prevention, so it was a very logical next step to get involved with some of the efforts to prevent elder abuse. Greater Boston Legal Services has taken a leadership role in developing community coalitions in Boston, where we are based and do most of our work, and Malden, where we hope to expand in 2017. The coalitions are designed to meet each community’s needs and build on each community’s strengths.
The coalitions are important because they raise awareness of the problem of elder abuse, and that is a key part in preventing it from happening. Elder abuse is not a very well understood issue, often because there may be stigma or shame attached to it. By increasing understanding of the problem, and helping to define it for all members of the community—including older adults themselves—we can begin to address what causes it, and how to prevent it. The coalitions have been effective because they involve not just the “usual suspects” of elder service providers, but also other community members such as law enforcement, local government and businesses. If all of these stakeholders better understand what the problem is and how to recognize it, and are educated about the resources available to elders who may be at risk, we can make significant progress towards preventing elder abuse in these communities.
Elder abuse can have significant consequences, including homelessness. By educating elders, their families and caregivers, and members of the community about it, and what they can do to prevent it or stop it, we can make a difference in the towns and cities where we live and work. There are many things that we cannot prevent, but elder abuse, and homelessness that results from it, are not among those things. Elders should not be faced with living in emergency shelters or on the streets for any reason, but particularly not when that happens due to abuse or neglect.