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Out of Harm’s Way: Part III
May 30, 2014
Out of Harm’s Way: Part III

Posted by Jon Federman

In Parts I and II of this story, we learned about the decline of the Jewish community in Roxbury and Dorchester in the 1960’s and how JF&CS was able to spring into action, bringing shopping trips, transportation, and cultural and social programming to the isolated Jewish elders who remained in those neighborhoods. In this final chapter, we examine the larger picture and see how JF&CS mobilized to physically relocate these elders to other neighborhoods where they could rejoin the Jewish community and feel less isolated.

MattapanMoving Day

By the summer of 1970, the situation had become dire for the remaining elderly Jews of Roxbury and Dorchester. The Elderly Project staff met with the BHA to initiate a police protection program for elderly, Jewish BHA residents. Several elderly clients’ residences had been broken into, and some elders had been robbed and beaten – repeatedly. One client was in the hospital, injured from her fifth robbery/beating. Some had experienced teens banging on their doors at all hours, while others had found dog feces deposited in their doorways. One client’s apartment had even been fire-bombed while she and her disabled sister were inside the apartment.

JF&CS began to receive many calls from elderly people seeking relocation help from the agency. Not only were apartments scarce at the time, but the elderly had mixed feelings about relocating. Rents in the newer Jewish communities of Allston, Brighton, and Brookline were much higher than in Roxbury and Dorchester. Many elders lived in larger, multi-room apartments or even houses, and the thought of moving into an “efficiency” (one-room) apartment was not appealing. Some found the prospect of selling off their personal possessions in order to scale down into an efficiency unit off-putting or unsurmountable. Home owners were also suffering great financial loss in selling their homes. Some expressed that they would rather live in fear and isolation than give up their memory-filled, larger living situations for the unknown.

Elderly tenants living in BHA properties faced even more roadblocks. At first, the BHA denied the transfer requests of these tenants because they felt that they already had adequate housing and that any new openings should be reserved for those with a more urgent need for a roof over their heads. JF&CS staff, with great effort, eventually persuaded the BHA to waive their rule which prohibited intra-project transfers so that the at-risk elderly could be moved into safer, elder sections of BHA properties. JF&CS staff was also instrumental in forcing the BHA to change their policy about placing elders into efficiency apartments so that more desirable one-bedroom apartments would be made available. JF&CS caseworkers noted that there were non-Jewish elderly residents living in fear of their surroundings, too, and these elders were also granted waivers and assistance from JF&CS.

With help from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), six new JF&CS staff members were added to the Project to deal exclusively with relocation, along with a few CJP staff members. JF&CS staff negotiated lower rents with landlords in neighborhoods such as Allston and Brighton for elderly clients who had been living in private housing. CJP and JF&CS staff were also able to negotiate arrangements between the BHA and some landlords under a “Leased Housing Program,” in which the city would supplement a tenant’s rent in order to make apartments available to low-income residents. Arrangements were then made by JF&CS with moving companies and volunteers to relocate the elderly clients.

Caseworkers faced a daunting task. They accompanied clients to view potential apartments, contacted realtors and utility companies for shut-offs and set-ups, hired movers, helped to decide which furniture to keep and which to sell or donate, and of course addressed the emotional factors inherent in uprooting someone from a long-established home. Dozens of elders were moved in the last few months of 1970 – elders who otherwise would have suffered further mental and physical hardship.

Much like present day JF&CS, the Roxbury Dorchester Elderly Project offered comprehensive services to its clients in 1970. Relocation was just one of the many services offered. Case workers attempted to maintain a broad view of the client’s overall problems and needs during and after the initial intake interview and were able to plan accordingly. Strong relationships were established between caseworkers and clients. As a result, caseworkers could offer other JF&CS services to clients, from legal assistance to nutrition, visiting homemakers, counseling, and support services. Once they had a supportive JF&CS network in place, some elders who were not in immediate physical danger decided that they did not need to relocate. Instead, with access to shopping, homemaker, and Friendly Visitor services, in addition to support groups and access to recreational activities, they remained in their homes while their feelings of isolation and loneliness decreased.

The Roxbury Dorchester Elderly Project Report itself sums up the involvement of JF&CS:

There was group interaction and communication. The emphasis was on the total program rather than on its component parts. For the first time, workers were making demands on the agency with concentration on a total program rather than individual concerns.

More than 40 years later, JF&CS continues to provide a full spectrum of services – from prevention to intervention and remediation – in order to improve people’s lives.

Jon FedermanJon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.

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