Is coffee the answer?

A major problem in the US and throughout the world is affordable housing for elderly and disabled households.  There are plenty of excellent housing developments in the USA that are attempting to bridge the gap. Funding enough affordable housing for the elderly and disabled is a major struggle. I do not know the answer to this question. There are good people advocating for proper funding levels for all types of affordable housing.  However, the problem does not stop with housing alone

My focus today is on the conditions for those who obtain housing.   Housing is not enough. Many need not only housing but assistance and companionship in their golden years. Too many find their way into a housing unit only to spend most of their time alone.  Isolation is very bad mentally and can manifest itself physically.  Isolation leads to elderly/disabled persons not knowing of all the resources available.  There are innovative programs throughout the world looking to resolve these problems and bring services and high quality socialization to seniors and disabled.

In Germany, a popular method being used is the Bielefelder Modell.  An organization in the city of Bielefeld created a model to bring together service providers in the city to help seniors.  The model was created in the 1990s and has since been named the Bielefelder Modells.  It is being used in multiple cities throughout Germany and being examined by other countries across the EU.  Bielefelder is a city in  North-Rhine Westphalia and does exist despite the jokes of many Germans.    The program functions to help elderly grow old in place with a supporting and nurturing environment.

The main method of this model is a neighborhood based approach that ensures safety and a strong supply of services and provisions to help the elderly.  The apartments in the existing residental areas must have good barrier free living or be renovated to include these features. The model combines these good living spaces with a living café as a meeting place and place of communication that is open to not only the people in the building but people in the community.  Simultaneously, a social service provider is present with a service center and full service around the clock in the neighborhood. All tenants have access to the support and care services, but they must pay only for what they need.  Insurance reimbursements are often used when it comes to paying for the services.

The Social Housing Company I work with in Hannover, GBH, uses the Bielefelder Modell. The name in Hannover is Wohen+ or living plus in English.  The company uses a very intensive data study to decide where to locate a new program.  Once the location is found, the company builds a nice coffee shop.  The space is pleasant to visit.  It is not an old room that has random furniture thrown into it.  Instead, it is modern space that is very welcoming.  Not only are the residents able to enjoy coffee in this spot but the neighborhood is invited in.  The idea is to create an environment that integrates the residents into the neighborhood. The space has a place for service providers to work and meet with residents.  The housing company in Hannover also leaves at least one apartment vacant but fully furnished so family members can visit.  This has the effect of encouraging longer family stays which is good for the residents. The vacant unit can also be used if a resident has a medical issue and needs a medical bed in the unit.  This capability allows the residents to come home quicker after a medical issue instead of being placed into a extended care facility.  I must stress that a full study is completed before starting one of these projects.  Certain buildings or neighborhoods may not support this model.  Data and an examination of circumstances is the most important part of implementing a project like Wohen+.

Other main points of this model include:

  • Security through lease duration
  • Accessible Apartments
  • Living café as a meeting place for family meals
  • Guest room for families
  • Service Centre
  • Security of supply around the clock
  • Treatment care in the field of medically prescribed treatments
  • Monitoring of activities, hobbies, culture and leisure
  • Integration assistance for young people (early retirement)
  • Family Respite Care
  • Support of self-help activities
  • Encounters generations
  • Mediation of housekeeping and maintenance services

Building a place that is warm, welcoming and that can lead to seniors seeking further services is an idea that should not be dismissed.  Funding is always a problem but providing services for our seniors is an issue that will only increase with time.  Looking for new ways to meet this need is a important job for everyone in our industry.  Maybe we can look to Germany to help us find some answers.

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