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West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing

Supportive housing for grandparents raising grandchildren

Across the United States, some 4.9 million children live in households headed by their grandparents.

Ninety-two of those children live at GrandParent Family Apartments, the nation’s first supportive housing residence for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The residence is just one of 24 supportive housing buildings operated by the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH). The New York City nonprofit provides over 1,600 units of affordable and supportive housing, making it one of the largest supportive housing providers in the state.

GrandParent Family Apartments began as an idea in 1999, when the Director of Presbyterian Senior Services (PSS), David Taylor, noticed a troubling trend.

“Grandparents were hiding their grandchildren in senior housing,” says former WSFSSH Executive Director Laura Jervis. “These were residences that didn’t allow minors. So we thought, why not legitimize the kids and have them become part of the housing?”

Six years later, WSFSSH opened its pioneering residence in the Bronx.

The building offers services to grandparents and children alike. For kids, the residence provides tutors and an education center to foster after-school learning. Once children complete their homework, they can participate in planned leisure activities that stress music, the arts and physical education. Older children can also consult college and career counselors.

GrandParent Family Apartments, in short, keeps children out of foster homes, active and away from the influence of gangs.

Grandparents, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about the safety of their grandchildren. They can confide in family counselors and support groups, receive assistance with benefits and entitlements, take computer classes and enroll in exercise workshops.

“It’s been great for us,” says Annie Barnes, a grandparent of two who’s lived at the residence for over six years. “This place has made things easier — much easier. And they have activities for me, too. It’s not all about the children. It’s about all of us.”

In recent years, the organization has received a parade of positive press, with coverage from 60 Minutes, CBS News, New York Times, New York Daily News and a short documentary from Old Dog Documentaries.

The work, however, remains a challenge. No other organization provides supportive housing to both elderly individuals and children, who can range from toddlers to college-bound young adults. But WSFSSH has seen the results, and it remains up to the task.

“From the outside, it’s grammas and apple pie,” says Jervis. “But on the inside, it’s tough. The grandparents have legal custody of the grandchildren, and that means the biological parent has been deemed unfit to raise the child. And that’s a heavy load, both for the grandparents and the grandchildren. It’s a load we’re here to help lift.”

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