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St. Louis Housing Authority adopts program to help area seniors feel less lonely

More than 70% of U.S. seniors surveyed lived in homes without any accessibility features, like handicap ramps or grab bars.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Housing Authority adopted a program first piloted in Europe to help seniors dealing with loneliness. There are seven Circle of Friends groups in the local housing authority with 52 members.

Many St. Louis seniors know what it feels like to experience isolation and loneliness, and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem. But a new program adopted by the St. Louis Housing Authority is working to change that.

Circles of Friends allows seniors to come together to share personal stories, go on special outings together or do creative art projects.

The St. Louis Housing Authority became the first housing authority in North America to adopt the program begun in Europe, said Kellyn Holliday, director of resident initiatives with the authority.

“Just having seniors connect with one another, discuss events that may be similar to each other, just having conversation and relating to one another did happen to show great prevalence in reducing loneliness and isolation, which is a really good thing,” Holliday said.

The city’s housing authority launched the program in 2019. It’s in partnership with CHIPS Health and Wellness Center and St. Louis University.

Edith Guthrie, a Circle of Friends facilitator at Cambridge Senior Living, said the program came at the right time, especially as the coronavirus pandemic put many seniors into isolation.

“We went to sleep one night, and we woke up and everything changed,” she said.

The 62-year-old has been working with roughly eight seniors since the program’s inception. Before the pandemic they played games and did arts and crafts. But the group stopped all in-person activities and switched to Zoom when the pandemic hit.

Guthrie said the program served as a safe space for seniors to talk about how they were feeling.

“In my group, I ask every week, ‘Hey, how do you deal with loneliness?’” Guthrie said. “‘[Are you] feeling lonely or have you been feeling down or depressed this week?’ And they’ll say, ‘No, I’m OK.’ We can all say that we’re OK, but it’s OK to not be OK.”

The groups don’t just talk about their mental health. Special guests are brought in to talk about their physical health and resources to help. Far too often seniors fall through the cracks, Holliday said, but this program acts as a safety net.

“A lot of times our seniors in some of our developments, especially in public housing, tend to get overlooked,” Holliday said. “But this is a really great program.”

There are seven Circle of Friends groups in the St. Louis Housing Authority with 52 members.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.