Lawrence is becoming a retirement destination, and a coalition of leaders plans to keep it that way.
The Douglas County Coalition on Aging formed in 2007 and has about 30 active members. The goal is to provide a voice for the growing elderly population.
“This is a population that is typically overlooked and it’s time to advocate for them,” said Lucas Houk, of Midland Care Hospice Services and a member of the Coalition on Aging. “We are actively seeking the public’s input. We want to know what we are doing well and what we need to improve on to provide services.”
The Coalition on Aging had its first community forum Wednesday afternoon at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine, and about 50 people participated. The participants included seniors, commissioners, attorneys, builders, Kansas University researchers and leaders of health care agencies.
The participants picked a topic — housing, transportation or safety — and met in a smaller group to discuss that issue. The leaders of those discussions were Brenda O’Keefe, a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority’s board of commissioners; Robert Nugent, public transit administrator for the city of Lawrence; and Sgt. Ed Swanson, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Among the top concerns discussed during the 90-minute forum were:
• The lack of quality, affordable housing for middle-income seniors. The average monthly rate for a senior rental complex is between $615 and $2,600. The average sale price for a Douglas County home in 2008 was $195,000.
• A need for senior homes and assisted living facilities that are closer to needs such as pharmacies, grocery stores and transportation.
• A need for more places to sit while waiting at a bus stop.
• A need to make the application for using The T Lift, a service for those with disabilities, easier.
• The lack of transportation services available to those who live outside Lawrence.
• A need for more education on how to use public transportation. Many seniors are uncomfortable with using vans and buses because they aren’t sure of the costs, schedules or even if they can physically get on and off. Only 12 percent of those who used public transportation in 2006 were age 55 and older.
• A need for more education on whom to contact when a safety issue arises. Seniors said they were afraid to call police because they weren’t sure when an issue should warrant such attention.
• A need to better track crime issues by age at the city and county level.
Lawrence resident Margo Gordon, 88, attended the forum and participated in the housing discussion. She was mostly interested in hearing what others had to say about the needs and what might be done about those needs.
“I think some good things could come out of the discussion because the coalition, hopefully, will take these ideas and work on some of them to actually bring some new things to the community and make some changes that maybe are needed,” she said.
The Coalition on Aging does plan to take up the concerns with lawmakers and public policymakers. The goal is to create a better environment for seniors, which represent about 20 percent of the county’s population.
“We are looking at how can we, as health professionals and aging advocates, kind of circle the wagons to provide the best care possible in the homes and retirement communities for an aging population in Douglas County,” Houk said.
Thanks to the community turnout at the forum, the group believes it is making a step in the right direction. The group plans to make the forum a quarterly event. The next one will be in October.
“I think they are going to be a very useful tool to get us all involved and get our community moving in ways that we need to, to benefit seniors,” Gordon said.