Outreach “Villages” to Aid Shut-in Seniors

By Patrick Butler

It may take a Village to reach out to Chicago’s growing number  of isolated seniors.  And if Joyce Gallagher of the city’s Department of Aging was hoping for diversity among the “stakeholders” who showed up for a recent kickoff meeting at the Levy Senior Center, 2019 N. Lawrence Ave., she wasn’t disappointed.

There was Eui Lei and Darnell Thomas from the Health Department; Dara Salk from the 47th Ward service office; Karen Kolb of Age With Ease; Helene Wineberg of Forward Chicago; and former 47th Ward Ald. Eugene Schulter, Frank Alverez, Paula Baston, and Chilton Court, all from the Northeast Levy Auxiliary.

Their mission from Gallagher was to find the estimated 25 percent of their neighborhoods’ elderly who are virtually isolated for a variety of reasons.  And the sooner the better, said Gallagher, noting that Chicago’s senior population is expected to double from 460,000 to 750,000 over the next 15 years.

The fastest-growing population right now is people over 75, she added.

So why are so many of them virtual recluses?

“Sometimes their friends die, families move out of town, and people are simply living longer.  The person may have mental health issues – dementia, Alzheimer’s….”

If they live on a second or third floor walkup and have mobility problems, they may not be able to get out and socialize with people, “we need to find ways to get to them” using all kinds of volunteers, Gallagher said.

Asked if that means enlisting the help of everyone from mailmen, clergy, even precinct captains, Schulter agreed “we have to look at all our options.  Government won’t be able to do it all.  We created 300 (senior housing) units at Irving and Western.  Now they have a cap on their waiting lists.  If we really believe in the idea of ‘aging in place,’ we’ve got to do something.”

For the foreseeable future, the Levy Regional Senior Center will be meeting monthly to develop strategies aimed at connecting isolated seniors with needed assistance, said Gallagher, who has already set up “villages” across the city from the South Side to Edgewater.

“We can provide the government services, but we need to find the people who need them.  We need the community to show us where they are,” Gallagher added.

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