Shelter and the Coordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse: A Growing Global Movement


By Malya Kurzweil Levin, Esq. Senior Staff Attorney and Joy Solomon, Esq. Director and Managing Attorney at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale


They came from communities throughout the country. Some were social workers, some lawyers, some nursing home administrators, as well as a variety of other professional backgrounds. Some had years of experience working with older adults, while others brought different types of expertise to a new field. They had come together to attend the fifth annual Symposium of the SPRiNG Alliance, the national network for the rapidly expanding elder abuse shelter movement, held in May 2018 at the Family Justice Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Founded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, which opened its doors as the first elder abuse shelter in the nation in 2005, this year’s Symposium brought together representatives from 23 different stakeholder programs either currently operating a shelter or in the process of learning how to create one.

The burgeoning of this shelter movement has been driven, in large part, by the nature of elder abuse itself. To experience elder abuse is, in many cases, to witness one’s home transformed from haven to prison.  Elder abuse is most commonly committed by family members, and all elder abuse, by definition, involves a relationship of trust between the older adult and the person causing harm.  Consequently, it commonly unfolds within homes, insidious and unseen. Domestic violence and homeless shelters are generally ill-equipped to accommodate the complex medical and socio-emotional needs of older adults who have experienced abuse. Affordable housing for older adults has become the holy grail of aging, with applications languishing on endless waitlists. And so older adults experiencing elder abuse remain in their homes in unsafe situations, because they have nowhere else to go.  As long as the older adult remains in an unsafe home environment, even the most appropriate and well-intentioned services will have limited impact.

A second force behind the exponential growth of the shelter movement is a growing nationwide understanding of the need for a coordinated, multidisciplinary response to elder abuse. Since this concept was spotlighted in the Department of Justice 2014 Elder Justice Roadmap, community leaders have begun to examine not just individual organizations dedicated to elder abuse prevention and intervention, but how those entities work together to provide seamless and effective wraparound support to people experiencing elder abuse. This systems level analysis repeatedly identifies safe shelter as a lynchpin for creating an effective community response to elder abuse. That’s when community change agents contact the Weinberg Center and get involved with the SPRiNG Alliance.

A new publication from the Weinberg Center, Shelter: The Missing Link in a Coordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse, tracks the evolution of the movement from its inception with the launch of the Weinberg Center to its current watershed moment. The monograph describes the various ways communities have adapted the model to their unique resources and circumstances. Some shelters, like the Weinberg Center, are located within one continuum of care community which already provides many of the services critical for older adults who have experienced abuse. Others use a number of long term care and assisted living communities within their geographic area. Still others use a variety of other housing options, including independent apartments and even motels, to shelter older adults who experience abuse. Each program provides the same critical core service, a safe bed for those experiencing acute abuse, and dedicated professionals with the expertise required to support them on their journey towards justice and healing.

Shelter: The Missing Link in a Coordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse serves both as a showcase of the elder abuse shelter and movement and a clarion call to those communities attempting to address elder abuse without a shelter option. For more information about bringing shelter to your community, contact joy.solomon@hebrewhome.org.

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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.