For the past five years, the housing authority has received federal funds for an elder service coordinator on Prince of Wales Island. This year, two new communities will be included in the program, which helps seniors access things like health care, financial information, events and activities.
“Programs like gardening, language classes, storytelling, or cultural events,” says Ricardo Worl, the housing authority’s chief executive officer.
He says additional grant money will be used to hire coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman, where Tlingit and Haida recently opened new senior centers.
“A lot of our tenants in these senior housing facilities have spent their entire lives in that community, and they want to remain there. Their family lives there, their grandchildren live there,” Worl says.
The housing authority contracts with Catholic Community Service to run the program. Marianne Mills is director of Southeast Senior Services for CCS, which operates similar programs in Juneau and the entire region.
“The main thing is to keep them active, healthy, and connected with other people,” Mills says. “Not just staying in their place by themselves.”
Mills says the elder service coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman will tailor programs and activities to the needs of their community. She says the program on Prince of Wales has benefited from partnerships with other agencies.
“For example, with the SEARHC clinic, they did a sit and be fit class, got some exercise equipment in the senior apartments there, and arranged for doctor and physical therapy visits on a regular basis,” she says. “Just made a variety of different health promotion activities available.”
Tlingit and Haida this year received a total of $246,000 for elder service coordinators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is part of HUD’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency grant program. Despite the federal shutdown and sequestration budget cuts, Worl says he’s fairly confident the money will continue to be available.
“If they don’t have programs that allow our elders to age in place, in the rural communities, it’s going to be even more expensive to bring them to our urban centers, where it’s a lot more competitive,” says Worl. “The wait lists to get into these senior housing and health care programs are tremendous.”
He says the housing authority will just need to remain diligent in communicating to Alaska’s Congressional delegation the importance of such programs.