In a Nutshell: The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC) is a nonprofit organization that helps the elderly maintain financial and social stability in New York City’s five boroughs. Its innovative Home Sharing Program matches homeowners or renters (hosts) with people needing a place to live (guests) based on interest and need, ensuring a satisfactory and safe living situation for both. It also offers several other programs targeted at low-income and at-risk individuals to help seniors maintain their social and financial independence.
In 2020, a young woman traveled from Iowa to New York City to attend NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. She spent her first 14 days in the city quarantining in a hotel, after which she needed a permanent residence. Through the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC), she connected with an elderly gentleman who had lost his wife and lived in a nursing home. She now stays with him rent-free, pays $50 a month for living expenses, and helps around the house with chores.
That situation benefits both parties — socially and financially. And it is just one of the many inspiring success stories from NYFSC.
“It’s worth the hard work to hear how people have been helped and remained in the community,” said Linda Hoffman, President and CEO of NYFSC. “He was in a nursing home and was discharged, and she was there, and it made all the difference in the world. He got out and is now living at home.”
NYFSC is a nonprofit, nonsectarian social service agency that aids senior citizens in New York City’s five boroughs. It operates 10 housing buildings, three senior citizen centers, a homeless shelter, and 35 social service programs. Its mission is to provide housing for seniors and help them remain in their homes as long as possible, primarily through its innovative Home Sharing Program. The program helps people, seniors or otherwise, avoid consumer debt, meet basic needs, and stay in their homes.
“The focus of our agency,” Hoffman said. “is to help maintain seniors in their own homes and communities and avoid institutionalization.”
Home Sharing Offers a Safe, Affordable Housing Solution
“We started the Home Sharing Program way back in 1981 in recognition of the need for affordable housing,” Hoffman said. “In the beginning, it was difficult to find people who, even though they needed the housing, felt comfortable living with a person they did not know. The key has been that we have been very, very careful.”
NYFSC ensures this compatibility through meticulous intake measures. The residence owner or tenant (host) and the person moving in (guest) both provide three references. The host must also provide their current lease or proof of ownership of their residence and the guest must provide proof of income. Background checks can also be conducted. They must also complete a lifestyle profile, which is the basis for computer matching.
Once they are identified as potential matches, hosts and guests meet to get acquainted, and the guest can take a tour of their potential new home. These steps are currently conducted virtually, but they are performed in person when conditions permit.
All living arrangements are made under NYFSC’s proprietary license agreement. That provides legal security in the form of a 30-day opt-out period, allowing either party to terminate the match if it isn’t a good fit.
NYFSC’s system often places seniors together, but it also matches them with younger people. Matches can also include members of the opposite sex, different ethnicities and religions, and those with or without pets.
All are matched according to shared interests and needs, not the least of which is financial. This process helps hosts and guests avoid accruing debt to maintain housing, providing a mutually beneficial situation.
The hosts set conditions for their guests — including payments for household expenses, but not rent — through the NYFSC Home Sharing Program. Those expenses are often well below typical housing costs, and guests may even live completely free in exchange for services that can include cleaning, shopping, and transportation, among others. That situation can help guests reduce and avoid debt while maintaining stable housing.
“This year our Home Sharing Program saved about $5.8 million by preventing people from going into homelessness, nursing home care, or requiring Medicaid home care,” Hoffman said. “We are talking about major savings, and that’s about $7 million total that the city’s saving for small-budget programs.”
Support Programs Provide Services at Reduced Cost
NYFSC also offers a Respite Care Program that provides short-term, in-home care for the frail elderly.
Seniors can access this service for $15 an hour, while still not adding to their debt and maintaining their social and financial independence.
Seniors can take advantage of in-home casework services provided by NYFSC. Those services allow seniors with low to moderate income to remain independent and live in their homes.
“We identify those individuals’ needs,” Hoffman said. “We make referrals if they need home-delivered meals. If they need home attendant services, we can provide them depending upon income level. So we help maintain these people at home and in the community.”
NYFSC also provides a host of other programs designed to ensure the financial, medical, and social well-being of senior citizens. These include home repair and safety audits, medication monitoring, and enriched housing. The latter is a licensed service operating in three of New York City’s five boroughs.
Workers provide one hot, home-cooked meal per day to seniors, do their shopping for them, and help them maintain social stability without going into debt to meet basic needs.
Encouraging People to Socialize and Stay Safe Online
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NYFSC continues to match and place guests with hosts. Now, as much as ever, the service is crucial for social and psychological wellness.
“It’s much better socially isolating if you’re living with someone you enjoy living with,” Hoffman said. “So it helps from a psycho-social point of view. It helps relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness.”
NYFSC has been installing free wifi in its housing complexes to reduce some of the isolation. Young volunteers, mostly teens, according to Hoffman, teach seniors how to use digital technology, enabling them to socialize and receive telehealth services while remaining safe from the pandemic. Those volunteers also use technology to connect with seniors once per week, checking in and spending quality time together.
NYFSC also has a new technological infrastructure that provides cultural engagement and entertainment for seniors and their younger cohorts. In coordination with the Theater Development Fund, the foundation produces movies for seniors in multiple languages. Once per week, it screens these films online and then hosts discussions afterward.
“We’ve actually had five different film events so far, and afterward, the teens have led the seniors in discussions,” Hoffman said. “They’ve been bonding together. And it’s wonderful to help prevent feelings of social isolation, loneliness, depression. It’s been very helpful.”
In the past, NYFSC services have been direct and in person. But the pandemic has helped the organization expand its horizons and consider new ways to serve seniors through virtual service and interactions.
“We need to relate to our seniors and keep them healthy, in positive moods, and let them know that they’re connected,” Hoffman said.
NYFSC: Balancing Health Resources with Heartfelt Support
NYFSC continues its mission to help senior citizens in New York stay connected to their communities, and avoid debt and homelessness. The foundation, which advocates for senior citizen rights with legislators and city and state decision-makers, has found new ways to approach that outreach.
“Usually, every year we have an annual meeting,” Hoffman said. “We bring in legislators and hosts and guests and have a luncheon. People bring their dogs with them. It’s heartwarming to see how friendships have developed and are maintained.”
Unfortunately, these luncheons aren’t possible under current circumstances. NYFSC has taken strict, fastidious measures to protect the well-being of seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. It began with a no-visitors policy in its housing complexes; the only outsiders admitted were workers coming in to clean and disinfect the premises.
NYFSC quickly upgraded and bought its own machines, which it uses to disinfect four times per day. All workers are tested for COVID-19, including outside workers, who are tested weekly.
“We’ve gone through 31 weeks now without any hospitalizations or anyone getting COVID-19 in our 10 buildings,” Hoffman said.
That’s not to say staying safe and socially engaged is easy, especially as the winter months approach. But NYFSC is working to balance health precautions with the need for connection with friends and family.
One example is the organization’s planning for Thanksgiving. It is finding ways to provide turkey dinners to seniors and opportunities to connect and give thanks that are crucial for maintaining a sense of normalcy and social wellness. And that program will provide a model for similar efforts in the future.
“What are we going to do for the rest of the holiday season?” Hoffman said. “Keep in touch, keep involved, keep safe, and keep healthy.”