Elderly find a haven from abuse – and a sense of belonging

A shelter in New York takes in the elderly who've experienced financial, psychological, or physical harm and provides medical care, counseling, and legal assistance.

Courtesy of Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention
Shelter residents relax amid flowers and herbs in the Hebrew Home’s therapeutic garden.

The elderly couple wanted to stay in their New York City apartment but needed assistance. Their adult son agreed to move downstairs to help them, but he had other plans in mind—which included gaining access to their financial information.

A social worker eventually found the couple malnourished and living in deplorable conditions.

“The child was not taking care of them, and the money was gone,” says Joy Solomon, co-founder and director of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention.

The couple took refuge in an emergency shelter the Weinberg Center has run since 2005 to help abuse victims age 60 and older living in New York and Westchester County.

The shelter is at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, a large senior-care facility. Ms. Solomon says the couple’s sad situation is a typical example of abuse of elderly persons involving financial, psychological, physical, or sexual harm, most often by relatives or paid caregivers who are supposed to be caring for them.

Clients of the emergency shelter are integrated among the residents of the Hebrew Home, the Weinberg Center’s parent organization. The dozen or so people admitted annually to the shelter may receive medical care, counseling, legal assistance, and referrals to social services.

They can also participate in activities, making them feel part of a community. Nearly half decide to become residents of the Hebrew Home.

The Weinberg Center also works to educate the public about abuse of the elderly. The group trains health-care providers, financial advisers, lawyers, and even doormen to recognize red flags that might indicate abuse.

Awareness of the problem is at the level where awareness of child abuse was 30 to 40 years ago, says Ms. Solomon: “So many victims remain in the shadows, untouched and unknown.”

Seven nonprofit long-term care facilities across the country have replicated the program. The Weinberg Center created an alliance for the groups to share ideas and best practices through monthly phone calls and an annual gathering.

About 40 percent of the group’s $1.2-million budget comes from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The rest comes from other family foundations, along with a small amount of money from the government.

Here, shelter residents relax amid flowers and herbs in the Hebrew Home’s therapeutic garden.

The garden is the ideal metaphor for the shelter, says Ms. Solomon.

“You can rebuild, you can replant,” she says. “Things will grow, but you need to nurture them and nourish them. And it takes time.”

This article originally appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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