It’s an early Christmas for the Dignity House project.
Social worker and Georgia Straight contributor Alex Sangha has been raising funds for a feasibility study on a proposed housing development and day program designed for queer seniors and their allies in Vancouver. His target was $25,000.
Sangha, who is also the founder of and spokesperson for Sher Vancouver (a social and support organization for South Asian queer people), began the project as part of his practicum at Diversecity Community Resources Society for his master’s degree in social work from Dalhousie University. Since August 31, Sangha has managed to raise $2,000 through Dignity House’s Facebook group.
On November 22, the Vancity Community Foundation gave the fundraising campaign a major boost with the approval of a $20,000 grant from their community-owned real-estate program.
“Through this fund, we invest in early-stage real-estate developments that have a clear link to community benefit,” Vancity strategic-programs manager Emily Beam said by phone. “So we’re really interested in building capacity in the sector.”
Sangha previously explained in a phone interview with the Straight that some queer seniors, without a family or children, remain at home—despite an inability to take care of themselves—out of fear of prejudice from caregivers.
Beam, who will be part of the advisory committee, explained that these concerns were part of Vancity’s motivation for involvement. “We heard from the community that there’s a big need for seniors’ housing and there’s a lot of issues particularly exaggerated for LGBTT seniors—isolation, discrimination—for a population that can be quite vulnerable. So we saw that this was a perfect stage for us to get involved and help them get to the step where they can prove that this project is viable and there’s a demonstratable community need and, hopefully, be involved all along the way and see it built one day.”
To take the fundraising past the finish line, a provincewide competition called B.C. Ideas (a collaborative community of groups that sponsors social-innovation projects for funding) announced on November 28 that Dignity House had been selected for a $15,000 grant, bringing total funds raised to $37,000.
The project had received 17 letters of support from organizations and individuals, including MP Hedy Fry, MP Jinny Sims, MLA Sue Hammell, Vancouver park board commissioner Trevor Loke, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the West End Seniors Community Planning Table, Heart of Richmond AIDS Society, Qmunity, and Health Initiative for Men.
“All these letters of support were really, really valuable in securing these funds, because it demonstrated community engagement and community support early on,” Sangha said by phone, noting that he had been turned down by numerous others.
The next step will be the creation of an advisory committee, which will consist of four core team members and 10 community members and will meet in January. The application deadline for the committee is December 15.
“For a project of this magnitude, it’s important to have the community engagement and community support, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re doing the community-advisory committee,” Sangha said. “We want to make sure we get the feedback, [that] the community’s involved and they feel they have ownership over the project.”
Finding a queer-friendly location will be an integral part of the study. “Basically, I’m hoping we can have it within proximity to the gay community, with good community resources, whether it’s West End, downtown, Yaletown, Mount Pleasant, maybe Commercial Drive….We might have to go somewhere close enough to a SkyTrain, somewhere that has good resources in the community. But we don’t really want to have to go too far out, so we’re going to have to negotiate and try to get a good site somewhere.”
For more information about the project, visit Dignity House's Facebook group.
With files from Yolande Cole.