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

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Volume 44 . Number 1 | 81

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