Getting older can be tough. Driving, walking and being able to see clearly at night can become daily challenges that can make life difficult to navigate.

And with a growing population of aging residents Wilton Manors, city officials here are aware that aging in place can be problematic if the right services are not available. That’s why being designated as an “Age-Friendly Community” by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is such a source of pride. 

“The idea of being able to age in place is really useful. I like that. It fits in the asprations the city,” said Wilton Manors resident and activist Van Gosselin, 73.

In a municipality that is known as the “second gayest city in America,” isolation among seniors can be especially worrisome.

 Living in a city that is aware of these issues as its residents age is important.

One challenge is that LGBT seniors often don’t have children or other relatives to care for them as they age, and they don’t feel comfortable at mainstream assisted living facilities, said Julie Seaver, executive director of Compass LGBT Community Center in Lake Worth.

“It can be a very scary time and it seems a lot of LGBT people are going back into the closet because it doesn’t feel safe to them to come out to their medical providers or their caregivers,” Seaver said.

“Ensuring that any community is age-friendly is especially beneficial to the LGBT population who faces particular challenges in this regard, and the city of Wilton Manors is proud to be one of the highest populated LGBT communities in the nation,” former Mayor Gary Resnick wrote in a February 2018 letter to the AARP. 

Resnick said the city would:

  • Promote the involvement of over residents in an effort to improve the city’s age-friendly standing
  • Support its Community Advisory Board in its work developing an Action Plan to respond to the needs of seniors
  • Commit to measuring and reporting Action Plan progress

The city joined 22 other Florida municipalities and counties in 2018 to become part of an elite group of localities recognized for their efforts.

Other Broward cities that have achieved the “age-friendly” AARP designation include Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Pembroke Pines and Pompano Beach.

Earlier this year, Wilton Manors commissioners approved plans for a 48-unit LGBT-friendly affordable housing project for seniors with disabilities. The project will be built at the Pride Center at Equality Park on Dixie Highway at the south entrance to the city. It will connect to an existing LGBT community center.

Seaver said they are watching the Wilton Manors project closely. Palm Beach County has no affordable LGBT-friendly housing for seniors.

“We are very interested in our brothers and sisters to the south,” Seaver said. “This is not a new concept. Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia all have very successful projects in major metropolitan areas.”

Membership in the AARP age-friendly communities group signifies that local officials are making an effort to prepare for future demands. According to statistics from the 2010 U.S. census, 15 percent of Wilton Manors residents were 65 years or older nearly 10 years ago. The number is expected to be higher today.

At Mickel Park, the city has installed a walk/jog path and exercise equipment that are age-friendly based on their simplicity to use. The equipment was selected with the city’s aging population in mind, said Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Tom Green.

“Anything that suggests that we are conscious of engaging the lives of residents in the city is a matter of pride for us,” Green said about the AARP age-friendly designation.

To receive the recognition, the city sent out an “age-friendly-survey” in early 2018 in the “Town Crier” newsletter seeking residents’ input. The survey is also available the city’s website. The survey asked residents if they were 50 years or older, how long they had lived in the city and how they would rate their community as a place to live for residents as they grow older.

One question asks how retirees get around to do things like shopping, visiting the doctor and running errands. Another inquires about the importance of safe parks, accessible transportation, affordable housing, employment opportunities and the proximity of quality health care.

The survey also inquires about marital status, gender identity, disability or chronic disease, education and employment status.

According to the AARP’s website, their network of age-friendly communities encourages states, cities, towns and rural areas “to prepare for the rapid aging of the U.S. population by paying increased attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults.”

Launched in April 2012, the network operates under the auspices of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program.