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By Marene Gustin
Follow the yellow brick road to Oz. Well, it’s actually the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum dressed up as Oz for the weekend of June 3 and 4.
There will be a launch party Saturday night and a champagne brunch on Sunday. And there will be plenty of drag queens, cabaret, costumes and cuisine, all for a good cause. The events will help raise funds for The Montrose Center’s planned LGBT senior housing project.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are 2.4 million LGBT seniors in America. In the Houston area, 3.5 percent of seniors, or 26,250, self-identify as LGBT, according to Census numbers. That number is likely higher due the fact that many LGBT seniors are reluctant to self-identify.
Unfortunately, many of them face crises related to financial security and housing. For most LGBT people over 65, same-sex marriage came too late to benefit from Social Security and spousal pension benefits. Others have neither family support nor children to take them in. And many face stigma from traditional providers of affordable housing and home health care.
The Montrose Center has long supported seniors in the LGBT community in a variety of ways. But the Houston project, There’s No Place Like Home, will be the first affordable housing project for LGBT seniors in the Southwest, and the second-largest in the country.
“There will be 112 one- and two-bedroom apartments,” says Kent Loftin, development director for The Montrose Center. “We expect to be able to house about 145 to 150 seniors.”
While the focus is on LGBT-friendly care, all seniors are welcome and many more will be able to access the programs at the Bob Lewis Community Center for meals, jobs and skills training, as well as social and recreational events and wellness checks.
Loftin admits this is just a drop in the bucket—although he says it’s “a very important, rainbow sparkly drop in the bucket.”
Total cost of the project is estimated at just over $23.5 million, including a $3.5 million dollar land grant for the property in the Third Ward (just 1.5 miles from The Montrose Center) from the Midtown Redevelopment Authority.
Allowing LGBT seniors to “age in place,” is an increasing problem, particularly in the gentrifying Montrose area as rents rise, but it is also a national problem. New York City is currently building two complexes in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Ingersoll Senior Residences and Crotona Senior Residences will collectively provide nearly 230 units with services targeted for the aging LGBT population. Those joint facilities are being paid for with mostly public funds, but here the There’s No Place Like Home housing project is being funded primarily through private donations. That’s a major accomplishment, particularly in a red state like Texas.
Hence the June weekend launch, where The Montrose Center hopes to raise a substantial amount of funds in tickets sales and donations. Former Mayor Annise Parker and State Representative Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, are the co-chairs for the campaign, and the whole weekend is being underwritten by local businesses including Concierge Travel, which is providing the entertainment.
“I guess I’m most excited about seeing Miss Conception, who is an incredible performer who sings all the songs from The Wizard of Oz while changing into all the characters’ costumes on stage,” says Loftin. Other talent on Saturday night includes Tommie Ross with a performance from The Wiz, and club queen Abigail.
Sunday brunch features a gaggle of drag queens and the fabulous Sister Helen Holy of Dallas, whose Baptist, Bible-quoting queen is both hilarious and on target with current events. It sounds like a super fun weekend for a very serious and much needed project.
For full details and to purchase tickets for the weekend activities, go here.