French was my first language. My mother was just 22 when I was born, her first child in a new country. My grandmother arrived in Brooklyn from Paris to help my mother, her youngest, care for me during my first year.
We were cramped in a one-bedroom apartment, sometimes without heat. But while my parents worked, my grandmother would swaddle me and sing songs.
She communicated to my paternal grandparents, who lived close by, in Yiddish since she did not speak English nor they French. They cared for one another.
So it was with curiosity that I read the newly released report, Place Matters: A Two-Generation Approach to Housing, by the Urban Institute and Ascend. The premise is a sound one: when your concern is lifting children out of poverty, it is important to focus on the parents too. “2Gen” is considered to be a “whole family” approach.
But why just two generations? Why are grandparents or family elders missing?
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other funders tested this concept together with housing groups, recognizing that housing stability and social cohesion are fundamental to healthy child development, calling it the Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) Initiative. (In Chicago, the provider was the Chicago Housing Authority at the Altgeld Gardens public housing development on the South Side.)
The HOST evaluators found that children and their parents are more likely to thrive where there is: (1) case management; (2) partnerships between housing agencies and social service providers; (3) sensitive trauma-informed approaches; (4) “engaging residents as leaders”; (5) providing the ability for families to save money; and (6) partnerships with schools.
Where are the elders and role models?
We at H.O.M.E. know that older adults in a child’s life matter, and conversely, that children brighten others’ lives.
While we too have seasoned social work staff and relationships with health care professionals and community groups, we believe that providing that most important secret sauce of warmth and togetherness – the reason people say “there’s no place like home” – is essential.
For over thirty-six years, we have fostered intentional communities that bring older adults together with younger adults and children.
Although they may not be related by blood, they become family.
Many years ago, when Pat Crowley House (PCH) residents went out to a restaurant, a patron walked up to Caren Arden-Tabani, our then-coordinator who also lived at PCH, and noted with wonder how the little 8-year-old boy – Caren’s son Marcus – helped an older resident take off her coat, pull out her chair and get her dessert. The man
“asked us how Marcus had learned to be independent and considerate. Something we at PCH take for granted as part of our daily lives was a mystery to this gentleman. This mystery is a telling statement on society and the wane in importance of the family. Perhaps our model of intergenerational living can set the tone for the future.”
Perhaps a “3Gen” or more approach is in order. Or better yet, let’s recognize that when all people come together and when no generation is the invisible generation, “we share and care for each other,” as Caren put it, and “those around us in our community” benefit too.
This is the first in the Making Visible Series, in which we will highlight ways that older adults are often unseen in public spaces, policies, and other areas - and suggest alternatives that make them visible. For updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or sign up for updates from H.O.M.E.