How Supporting the Health and Wealth of Chicago’s Seniors Builds Community

by Bruce A. Otto, Executive Director, H.O.M.E.
Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.)

The independence of Chicago’s low-income seniors is in jeopardy. H.O.M.E. is working to develop more equitable, robust, and age-friendly opportunities to combat the many issues facing today’s seniors.

Our social safety net for the elderly is torn. Thousands of low-income Chicago seniors don’t have the means or support they need to live in adequate housing. Many don’t even have access to grocery stores, medical centers, and pharmacies. By 2020, 24% of all elderly households in Chicago will earn less than $15,000 per year. Isolation, disability, and financially vulnerability are threatening the health and well-being of our seniors.

Now more than ever, senior-specific services are needed by some of the most vulnerable people in our community. At Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.), we help low-income seniors in Chicago maintain their independence and remain part of a community by providing home upkeep and repair service, a shopping bus, moving assistance, and affordable apartment buildings where seniors can live comfortably in an intergenerational environment.

Founded through the vision of Michel and Lilo Salmon and nurtured by passionate like-minded community leaders for 35 years, H.O.M.E. has helped thousands of low-income seniors to be independent and stay in their communities. Without our services, many seniors would be unnecessarily living in nursing homes, living in their homes in unsafe conditions, and trying to survive without access to food or medication.

I believe our services are unlike any other organization in Chicago, and our expanding waitlist for services illustrates the growing need for these programs. The funding we receive allows us to continue pursuing our passion of changing the lives of low-income seniors and developing a more equitable, robust, and age-friendly community in Chicago.

The Field Foundation has been a longtime champion of H.O.M.E., having supported our housing and housing support services for low-income seniors as far back as 1997. The foundation is known for being willing to fund new and innovative initiatives that have the potential to impact the most vulnerable populations in our community. It is a nimble foundation that is open to communicating with nonprofits to understand what their operating and program needs are. This versatility and eagerness to make impactful contributions to our communities supports Chicago’s robust neighborhoods. The Field Foundation showed great support as we experienced several unexpected hurdles while launching the program. Heather [Smith, Senior Program Officer] and Mark [Murray, Program Director] at the foundation were both open to hearing about what was working, where the needs for the program were, and what they could do to help. Heather encouraged updates and information not only about our Moving Program, but about issues facing the population that we serve. During site visits, they asked insightful questions of our staff.

Most recently, the Field Foundation together with The Retirement Research Foundation (RRF), helped to relaunch our Moving Program, which had closed in 2009 under the pressure of the economic downturn. The redesigned and highly-efficient program partners with professional moving companies to maximize impact while decreasing overhead costs. While professional movers provide expert labor, moving trucks, and logistics, H.O.M.E. utilizes its expertise in providing person-centered support to help low-income seniors through one of life’s most stressful events.

Many of our moving clients come to us because a life event has changed their housing needs or because their current environment is unlivable. One client shared with me that without H.O.M.E. she would not have been able to move to a much better apartment building. She would have remained “sad and fearful.” Not only does our program make a move possible, it also significantly reduces stress for our clients.

The results of our recent Moving Satisfaction survey shows evidence of the positive impact on our clients in the Moving Program. Ninety one percent of respondents stated that their move with H.O.M.E. was more satisfactory than other moves they have experienced, and 81% indicated that their sense of independence has increased since receiving moving assistance. While these statistics and numbers are important, hearing directly from the people we serve is what I feel really shows our impact and relevance in the community.

“Without your help, this move would have been impossible. You literally saved my life! I would not have been able to survive under those conditions much longer with the many health problems I have. I am now able to have basic necessities like heat and hot water to bathe. I don't have to inhale mold and mildew anymore or worry about the ceiling falling in on my head. I did something in my new apartment that I have not done in a while, I washed my hair. With that said, you and the H.O.M.E. [organization] is truly a Godsend and blessing...[you] helped make my burden light and I sincerely thank you.” – Diana, Moving Program client

We recently launched a five-year strategic plan for H.O.M.E. that will enable us to better serve seniors in Chicago by expanding and deepening our role in providing housing and housing support services. We are seeking to strengthen our relationships and understanding of communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago, where we will continue to make strides in changing the lives of low-income seniors.

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© 2016 Field Foundation
All photos by Olga Lopez