As the U.S. population ages, most communities will wrestle with a variety of issues related to elderly residents. Top of mind would be emergency services, transportation, engagement and activities, and appropriate housing.
Teaneck, New Jersey (pop. 40,000), is getting ahead of the curve with a program called Age-Friendly Teaneck. The planning phase of the program began in January 2016 and the three-year implementation began in October 2016.
My many years in Teaneck have made me realize what a priority it should be to keep our residents here, safe and engaged,” said Township Manager William Broughton.
So far, the group has launched a website, www.agefriendlyteaneck.org and Twitter channel @AFTeaneck, which already is full of resources for the town’s elderly population. The group has formed task forces and developed materials and ancillary programs in support of its initiative to make Teaneck an age-friendly and livable community. Already, the initiative has 16 steering committee members, 60 residents serving on five task forces, and partnerships are emerging quickly.
None of this would have been accomplished without the involvement of the former mayor, Jacqueline Kates. “Mrs. Kates and her drive have really helped the Age Friendly Initiative come to fruition,” said Broughton.
“Most people would like to age in place, near the people and activities that have been part of their lives. But most cities, towns, and villages are not organized to help residents stay connected and engaged, may not have safe and affordable housing options, do not provide adequate access to transportation and mobility, enable economic opportunity, or allow seniors to be financially secure as they age,” said Kates, who is project coordinator for Age-Friendly Teaneck said. “Communities are often unprepared for the increasing number of older people, but we want to make sure that Teaneck is a community where we can remain and enjoy living, whatever age we are.”
Starts With A Survey
Teaneck municipal building. Photo by Ray Turkin Photography.
The initiative began with a survey in which older adults identified these top concerns:
- Staying in their homes despite reduced incomes, higher taxes, and accessibility issues.
- Maintaining their homes when funds, information, and resources are scarce.
- Transportation when driving is no longer an option.
- Access to the adequate community, medical, and healthcare resources.
- Continued access to the Richard Rodda Community Center for activities and social interaction even if they are living alone.
- Managing finances and access to related resources and economic assets
“Our task forces are addressing the issues of concern that were identified during the planning phase, through the survey, as well as interviews and focus groups,” Kates said.
Task forces include:
- Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Task Force
- Health and Social Engagement Task Force
- Community Resources and Communications Task Force
- Housing Options Task Force
- Business and Banking Task Force.
The first successful advocacy effort was led by Broughton, who responded to the concerns of the Age-Friendly group by interceding with Bergen County to increase crossing time at an intersection.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really does make a difference for anyone crossing that intersection who can now walk at a slower and safer pace, without feeling the need to run and possibly fall in the street,” Kates said. “People are very happy about that. And this safety issue demonstrates that age-friendly improvements can benefit everyone in the community.”
Continuing this effort, and in response to an unfortunate rash of pedestrian fatalities, Broughton’s office has started working with an expert in Complete Streets at Rutgers University to incorporate ideas into the town’s master plan for roads and intersections.
The Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Task Force also is trying to find more ways to expand the township’s Senior Transportation Services to help those who don’t drive and need to get to doctors’ appointments, the supermarket, or the beauty salon. Options include the Independent Transportation Network of volunteer drivers and the Go Go Grandparent program that use Uber and Lyft.
The Community Resources and Communications Task Force is in the process of developing a directory of essential Teaneck resource phone numbers for first responders to leave behind when they respond to emergency calls. “We have learned from the first responders that people call 9-1-1 even when there isn’t a true emergency because they know they’ll get a response, and they don’t know where else to turn for help,“ Kates said.
First responders will distribute the directory that people can put on their refrigerators or near their telephones so they can call the proper number for a problem that is important but does not require police, fire truck or ambulance. The cooperative project is being underwritten by Five Star Senior Premier Living, one of the program’s community partners.
On the flip side, Age Friendly Teaneck is promoting the Fire Department’s Good Morning Check-In program for those who live alone. Residents who register with the Fire Department will receive a daily call to make sure they are okay, and if there’s no response, a hose and ladder fire truck will be there to help.
The Health and Social Engagement Task Force and the Township and the Holy Name Medical Center are cosponsoring a series of four events, Conversation of Your Life, to raise awareness of the importance of anyone over 18 having an Advance Medical Directive.
Housing Concerns Abound
Seal of Teaneck, N.J.
“Housing is one of the biggest concerns of older adults who want to stay in Teaneck,” said Kates. “I hear about that issue more often than any other. If there had been housing options in Teaneck for us to downsize, my husband and I would never have considered moving,” added Kates, who had lived in Teaneck since she was in elementary school.
For those on limited incomes, the options are few. The Brookdale subsidized independent housing for older adults opened in April 2016 and has a 10-year waiting list. And while the township council is supportive of residential housing projects, with several new developments approved, Kates does not think any are specifically targeted for older people, with the required amenities that would make it more comfortable to live there.
Thus, the Housing Task Force is exploring options for seniors on a college campus, with residents benefiting from the educational and cultural stimulation of college life, since they would be required to take a number of credits as a condition of becoming a resident. The task force also is looking into publicizing information on home-sharing options that can formalize these situations and protect the elderly with follow-up visits and other parameters set forth in agreements.
For those having difficulty maintaining their homes, the task force is publicizing agencies that can give free volunteer repair and maintenance help to older adults, such as The Chore Service of Bergen Volunteer Center and Rebuilding Together North Jersey. These groups perform minor repairs, install grab bars, and other equipment needed by the elderly.
The task forces also are working with business and banks to ensure that the economic assets of older adult consumers are being maximized and special needs are being met, by improving lighting, using larger fonts on materials and advertising and providing access to public restrooms. Training bank and business staff to recognize signs of financial and physical elder abuse also are on the agenda.
The Teaneck program is funded by the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation. The planning phase grant was $35,000 and the implementation grant is for up to $75,000 per year for three years. Resources for local governments in the sustainable communities topic area can be found on the ICMA website.