Generations_Weinberg

Taking Action Against Elder Mistreatment

The Weinberg Center for Elder Justice: A Place to Shelter By Joy Solomon

One case study illuminates elder mistreatment and demonstrates the meaning of home.

T he epic journey home is a common theme throughout great literature, flm, and televi- sion—fromHomer’s The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz to Game of Thrones . The concept of home tran- scends history, culture, and geography. Home is not a place of perfection, but a felt sense of belonging. Each of us wants a place we can call home. For Evelyn and her daughter Sheila (not their real names), what is home keeps chang- ing. Sheila, a 51-year-old divorced woman with two adult children, was living in Florida when a stroke left her seriously impaired and dependent; she had difficulty walking and a lingering numb- ness that limited the use of her hands. The stroke also caused aphasia, severely affecting Sheila’s ability to speak, read, or write. In our fast-paced world, those who cannot communicate quickly and effectively become vulnerable—easy targets for abuse. Most of us rely upon our families and com- munities in times of crisis. Sheila moved back from Florida to New York to live with her 83-year-old mother, Evelyn, who has Parkin- son’s disease and speaks only Spanish. Though Evelyn had very limited income, she did have secure low-income housing.

Home is the place where someone who loves you is there to take care of you. New research on belonging confrms that the feeling of home as a place of love is not diminished when resources ‘Those who cannot communicate quickly and effectively become vulnerable—easy targets for abuse.’ are minimal or when access to systems and con- nections are limited. Enter Manny—and an Unsafe Home One irony of New York City living, particularly for low-income older adults, is that they often have enviable housing, like a rent-controlled apartment, a scarce subsidy voucher, or live under a rent freeze. These assets are critical to older adults’ quality of life, but also they create vulnerability for the many other people who are desperate for stable housing. Sheila and Evelyn’s stable home made them a target for Manny, Sheila’s son and Evelyn’s grandson. Manny lives with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder. Without the resources or

abstract The Weinberg Center for Elder Justice is the nation’s first and longest-running shelter for older adults who have experienced abuse in the community. Their services, however, go beyond shelter; they also provide their clients with a sense of home. The story of Evelyn and Sheila (a fictionalized case study) shows how elder mistreatment can destroy older adults’ sense of home and what can be done to restore it. | key words : shelter, belonging, home, trauma, justice

Copyright © 2020 American Society on Aging; all rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated, reprinted or distributed in any formwithout written permission from the publisher: American Society on Aging, 575Market St., Suite 2100, San Francisco, CA 94105-2869; e-mail: info@asaging.org . For information about ASA’s publications visit www.asaging.org/publications . For information about ASA membership visit www.asaging.org/join.

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GENERATIONS – Journal of the American Society on Aging

bureaucratic savvy to advocate for him, Sheila watched helplessly as her son failed his way through a school system that saw his symptoms as delinquent behavior. By the time he was in his late 20s, Manny, now addicted to opioids, had an extensive criminal record. Manny continuously haunts their apartment, returning whenever he needs money. Knowing the women could not run if they needed to, he threatens to set the apartment on fre when they are inside. Family violence is terrifying and com- plex; the brain and the heart struggle when the person harming you has access to your home and your history. According to the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention (CDC), elder abuse is defned as a pattern of behavior in which there is a rela- tionship of trust between the person who causes harm and the person who experiences harm (CDC, 2019). Of the one in ten older adults who experience elder abuse across America, a family member or trusted other is the abuser in 90 percent of the cases (The National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998). On one occasion when his mother and grandmother had no money to give him, Manny flew into a rage. Sheila looked at him from her wheelchair, overwhelmed by fear, guilt, and pain. He grabbed the side of her wheelchair and overturned it, knocking her to the floor. Manny fled, and Evelyn called the police, who took a report for assault. A warrant was issued for Manny’s arrest. For many of us it is hard to imagine living in a home that is unsafe. What is it like for Sheila and Evelyn, who lack access, contacts, language, money, and health—the tools so many of us rely on to effect change? Manny continued to come back at night, ter- rifying the women. There was yelling. Someone called 911. Evelyn, engulfed in fear, and Sheila, non-verbal and in constant distress and on some level conflicted about the relationship with her son, were taken to the Vulnerable Elder Protection Team, an emergency room at Weill Cornell Medi-

‘Sheila and Evelyn’s stable home made them a target for Manny, Sheila’s son and Evelyn’s grandson.’ For mother and daughter, it is not just their physical home that offers no refuge. Commu- nity agencies and services that might serve as a safety net, such as law enforcement, medical providers, or Adult Protective Services—all are unable to address the women’s increasingly urgent housing needs. cine in New York City that is specifcally designed for older adults. It was very difficult for the medi- cal professionals to communicate with Evelyn and Sheila, but when they did, both women expressed that they could not return home. Neurological research on fear demonstrates its powerful side effects. In many cases of elder abuse, that fear emanates from home. Over time, fear causes not just physical symptoms, but chronic ill- ness. Mental health conditions can be exacerbated and even created by prolonged fearfulness. Enter the Weinberg Center— a Safe Place, a Haven Shelter, you see, is a critical component of a coordinated community response to elder abuse. This is something we can all be a part of supporting. Home is not just a place. Home is a feeling of safety. Understandably, mother and daughter want to be together. The hospital refers them to the Weinberg Center, with the ultimate goal of dis- charging them, safely, to a new home. After extensive coordination, the women come into the Weinberg Center shelter, arriving with no belongings. Once at the shelter, in spite of the pair’s different health needs, the Weinberg team advocates for them to be placed in a room together. The feeling of home begins to emerge, but the search for a more permanent and safe home is just beginning.

Copyright © 2020 American Society on Aging; all rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated, reprinted or distributed in any formwithout written permission from the publisher: American Society on Aging, 575Market St., Suite 2100, San Francisco, CA 94105-2869; e-mail: info@asaging.org . For information about ASA’s publications visit www.asaging.org/publications . For information about ASA membership visit www.asaging.org/join.

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Taking Action Against Elder Mistreatment

At the Weinberg Center, the women receive medical and other clinical care, new clothes, and other items of comfort. Though she has no words, Sheila lights up when our senior elder jus- tice specialist offers her lavender lotion, spark- ing a positive memory. The right sensory object can help people who have experienced trauma to combat painful triggers and re-establish their own power and sense of agency. The Weinberg team investigates and learns that there is an arrest warrant out for Manny. On the police affidavit, only Sheila is listed as the complaining witness. The Weinberg legal team advocates to have Evelyn added, so that both women can be included on the criminal order of protection once an arrest is made. It is determined that because of each woman’s complex needs—Evelyn’s physical impairments and Sheila’s lack of communication—they need a guardian. The team locates Sheila’s ex-husband, Rick, who is living in Texas. The Weinberg team advocates for a bedside Article 81 guardianship hearing—wherein the court takes testimony from clients with a stenographer and other necessary parties present—so the women can fully partici- pate, despite their medical conditions. Trauma-informed preparation and support allows the women to articulate to the judge pre- siding over the bedside hearing their fears, their need for assistance, and their goal of creating a new home together. Rick comes to the guardian- ship hearing and asks to be appointed guardian.

The court sees the women’s enduring connection with him and agrees to the appointment. The Weinberg Center works closely with Rick, who is now Sheila’s and Evelyn’s appointed guardian. Though a kind person, Rick is inex- perienced in the legal matters around guard- ianship. The Center helps him to navigate the women’s complex journey to a new home— including overseeing fnances and housing vouchers, fnding a suitable and safe apartment (unknown to Manny), and ensuring adequate homecare services. The team continues its critical role as liai- son between the clients and the District Attor- neys office. The police locate Manny, who pleads guilty to harassment. A fve-year order of protec- tion is issued for mother and daughter. Home is an alchemy of many disparate ele- ments woven together—a place that represents familiar people, beloved objects, safety, love. Through the help of elder advocates such as those at the Weinberg Center, Sheila and Evelyn will fnd a place to call home. Many homes make community. Communities make a nation. For America to truly be our home, it must provide justice for all. Joy Solomon, Esq., is the director and managing attorney at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, New York. She can be contacted at Joy.solomon@ theweinbergcenter.org .

References Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. “Elder Abuse.” tinyurl.com/y2usgdhr. Retrieved August 28, 2019.

The National Center on Elder Abuse. 1998. “The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study.” Washing- ton, DC: Department of Health and Human Services. tinyurl.com/wxl coe7. Retrieved February 4, 2020.

Copyright © 2020 American Society on Aging; all rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated, reprinted or distributed in any formwithout written permission from the publisher: American Society on Aging, 575Market St., Suite 2100, San Francisco, CA 94105-2869; e-mail: info@asaging.org . For information about ASA’s publications visit www.asaging.org/publications . For information about ASA membership visit www.asaging.org/join.

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