Our Stories — Supporter
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Anna Bissonette, Founding Director, Elders Living At Home Program
And Former Associate Director of Home Medical Service, Boston University
"I am continually grateful to Eileen and her staff for the steadfastness and love that they devote each and every day to the mission we adopted in December of 1986."
In the mid 1980’s, the South End of Boston was a neighborhood in the midst of vast social and economic change. For many of the neighborhood’s low income elderly and disabled, the University Hospital’s Home Medical Service served as primary care provider. These people were living mainly in rooming houses, struggling to get by on Social Security or public assistance. Most didn’t have cooking facilities. They often shared bathrooms with other residents. And yet these residents were proud and independent. With gentrification, however, the rooms these men and women were renting were rapidly disappearing. These long-time residents were being evicted, with little resources and no place to go.
Since most of the patients did not have families or a support network to help them, they started sharing the eviction notices with their Home Medical Service providers. The doctors and nurses became seriously distressed with the reality of elder patients being forced out onto the streets. “In one instance,” Anna remembers, “while the HMS medical team was making a house call, the Sheriff arrived to arrest a patient who had failed to move out quickly enough.” They knew that something had to be done.
Anna and others providing services to these patients needed to find a creative way to help them. Anna recalls thinking that “my work as a nurse needed to be far more holistic. One cannot have health without a home.” They learned about a grant to fund a demonstration project called the “Living At Home Program.” The funders were looking for pilot projects that could find ways to keep people housed and independent in the community. Under Anna’s guidance, HMS drafted a proposal to provide an array of medical, housing, legal and social services to elderly men and women. The proposal was accepted, so in 1986 ELAHP came into existence. “In its twenty five years of continuous service,” Anna says, “ELAHP has not only helped the South End residents that inspired the program from losing their homes, but also helped hundreds and hundreds of already homeless elders in shelters and on the streets transition to a better life, in housing.”
Though Anna moved on from ELAHP a couple years later, her focus has remained housing for homeless elders, especially housing with services. “I am continually grateful to Eileen and her staff,” Anna says, “for the steadfastness and love that they devote each and every day to the mission we adopted in December of 1986.”