Three years ago, LGBTQ rights activist Allan Hendricks watched a friend open a group home for seniors, and had an idea.
“Everyone [in the LGBTQ community] was talking about what are we going to do with our elders?” Hendricks said. “We’d been talking about this for a decade.”
And so he pooled his resources and, in his time outside his day-job as a landscape architect, envisioned and brought to life the Connie House.
The Connie House is an assisted living facility for LGBTQ seniors located in Boynton Beach. Per its website, it offers residents a “warm and inviting space” where “all are welcome” without regard to sexual orientation. Trained nursing staff is on site 24 hours a day, and residents are afforded regular meals, semi-private living spaces, and a host of social, health, and wellness programs to assist and enrich them in their day-to-day lives.
“We want it to be a safe place where everyone can enjoy their lives and be who they are,” Hendricks says of
the facility he built, manages, and lives in currently. The four bedroom, three bath home is built for up to six residents and is fully licensed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (the Florida state body which governs assisted living facilities).
It is also a first-of-its kind in Florida.
“The only facility even remotely similar to this that I know of is in Palm Springs, California,” Hendricks said.
The Connie House’s website notes that the location of the home was picked based on its proximity to Compass, the LGBTQ community center in Lake Worth, and that it will “chauffeur residents to activities and social gatherings as they wish.”
“We want our residents to know they are a valued part of our community,” Hendricks said. “To not feel cut off.”
The number of LGBTQ adults over 50 is growing steadily, with the population expected to hit seven million by 2030, according to an estimate by SAGE, an organization that helps LGTBQ seniors. In addition to social isolation, many face significant obstacles in obtaining quality care and housing.
Regarding the latter, a 2014 study by the Equal Rights Center demonstrated that LGBTQ seniors experienced negative treatment compared to their heterosexual counterparts when seeking assisted living services.
The study asked people to phone inquiries to various facilities citing identical circumstances and profiles with the exception of sexual orientation. LGBTQ identifying callers were quoted higher fees, subjected to more extensive applications, and were not provided with the same depth of information as those who claimed to be heterosexual.
And the discrimination doesn’t stop there.
“Few long-term care facilities have policies to protect residents based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to an article by PBS.ORG. Which means that LGBTQ seniors could, and frequently do, face discrimination even after they have moved-in to an assisted living facility.
“Some of the healthcare workers in the field come from different cultures where they carry prejudice,” Hendricks said, “and this says nothing of the actual residents themselves.”
“Today, this moment, we’re talking about people who are 80 years old, let’s say. And if they haven’t done the work … They grew up very prejudiced against gay people. Never mind trans people. They’re light years behind there.”
Hendricks goes on to say that, despite this, he has seen a growing trend toward acceptance and “seeking” of the LGBTQ senior “tribe” amongst the healthcare community in South Florida. He aims to be at the forefront of such progress, he says, not just now, but into the future as well.
“Once we get our chops,” he said, with the Connie House, “there’s no reason we can’t replicate this idea and do it with more beds or even 20 units.”
He floats the idea of a more independent community as a possibility. “Or maybe we might do something similar to what they’ve done in Palm Springs. Took an old hotel, turned it into an assisted living facility.”
As for a location in Broward — Wilton Manors, perhaps? — Hendricks loves the prospect, but insists, “One at a time, please!”
“It’s a lot of work just to open one of these places!” he said.
The Connie House is currently accepting applications, and welcomes all to apply, per its website at thepridetribe.org/the-connie-house
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Hendricks was recently featured as one of the LGBTQ folks chosen as a part of Out South Florida’s first Out & Proud list. Read more about him here.