Program offers legal help
to low-income LGBT seniors
by Matthew S. Bajko
A new program has launched to offer legal help to low-income LGBT seniors living in San Francisco.
The local nonprofit Bay Area Legal Aid launched the GLBT Seniors Advocacy Project in order to help out elders with limited incomes who encounter problems where they may need the assistance of an attorney.
Anyone 62 years of age or older whose income is roughly $13,953 or less a year is eligible for the program. Those eligible likely are living in single-room-occupancy hotels or have been in the same rent-controlled apartment for decades.
The program's main goal is to see that legal issues do not result in LGBT elders living on fixed incomes lose their housing in San Francisco and have to relocate elsewhere.
"It's a population that is extremely fragile because at any moment if they have a fluctuation in their income they could miss a rent payment and be evicted," said Jamie Wagoner, the nonprofit's Borchard Fellow in Law and Aging and the principal advocate behind the new project. "What we are hoping to do is prevent them from having to leave the city."
GSAP is equipped to handle problems that out elders may experience with a variety of governmental assistance programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security retirement benefits, county adult assistance program (General Assistance), Medi-Cal, Medi-Cal Managed Care, and In-Home Support Services.
"We will act as their lawyer and we will represent them if they have to go to Social Security Administration hearings," said Wagoner. "We could represent them and go to court over their eviction."
In addition, GSAP can offer referrals to other Bay Area Legal Aid services related to domestic violence, housing-related problems, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), CalWORKS, and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI).
"It is hoped that GSAP will provide timely assistance to GLBT seniors as soon as a problem arises with their benefits, preventing disruptions or reductions in payments and the consequent loss of housing," explained Wagoner in an email announcing GSAP's launch. "This silent movement of the low-income GLBT senior population out of the community could be devastating for the individuals who are forced to relocate to less tolerant and culturally sensitive areas."
The Borchard Foundation contributed $40,000 toward GSAP, which launched in September. Bay Area Legal Aid is providing $5,000 in additional funding.
Wagoner encouraged any senior with questions to call GSAP at (415) 354-6379 or email mailto:GSAP@BayLegal.org.
"If someone is about to enter that age, we could speak with them and help them with planning or if they have questions about what it will be like for them at age 62," said Wagoner.