written by Yvonne Witter
Surinam-born Glenn Hussain (62) has lived in the Netherlands since 1973, and has been actively improving society for many years. He, for instance, opened a cohousing project for elderly people as he noticed how, in his own environment, older people with a migrant background desired certain facilities. ‘Hearing those things makes my heart race. It makes me want to take practical action,’ he says.
Elderly people with a migrant background usually haven’t invested in their living facilities as they, originally, didn’t plan to stay in the Netherlands. Since many residential homes have been shut down and people being forced to live on their own for longer, they started desiring certain compromises. Glenn tells me: ‘They have this overwhelming desire for a safe living environment, just like everyone. They need security and comfortability. One of the solutions is communal living. But it is not easy to establish such a co housing project. To do that, certain aid is required.’
A safe environment
Glenn has, therefore, realized a multi cultural senior cohousing community in the housing complex of De Eijk in the municipality of Hoofddorp. Twenty out of 86 of the houses in this community are meant for older migrants. Inhabitants are from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Palestina, Somalia or Surinam. Or the Netherlands. The youngest inhabitant is 59, the oldest is in their 90’s.
‘The elderly want to continue living independently and on their own but they want to do so in a safe environment, where residents watch each other’s backs and where they have the opportunity to participate in collective activities. With the help of the knowledge centre of ‘’Woonsaem’’, specialised in communal living for elder migrants, the housing corporation Woonzorg Nederland, and the municipality of Hoofddorp, he managed to realize this.
It has come to the point that the cohousing project has an enormous waiting list. ‘’The demand for these types of housing is incredible. It is a shame that it is so difficult to realise these forms of accomodations.’’ Things like finding a location or an investor appeared to be a bottleneck. ‘’I started all this in 2007,’’ he tells me. ‘’And despite all that, it took more than 10 years to found this.’’ In Glenn’s experience, project developers usually are not keen to set up these cohousing projects and ‘prefer to concentrate on establishing commercial housing projects.’
According to Glenn, the requirements of elderly people with a migration background are not too different from the wishes of Dutch senior citizens. ‘’Elderly people with a migration background are, just like the Dutch, incredibly diverse and have different wishes, preferences and requirements. He does see that many people with a migration background usually suffer a language delay. They usually attended less education, and are not as proficient with technology as younger, or born-and-raised-Dutch countrymen. They usually struggle to set up their own housing projects.
“Elderly people with a migration background rely a bit more on their kids, usually. Many of them want to take them in, but struggle to find enough space in their own apartments. They, at least, like to live near each other, but even that is not too simple.”
Glenn himself does not plan on moving anytime soon. “Maybe I will trade this house for a smaller one, sometime. I do not exclude the possibility of living in a residential home myself.’ For now he is keeping himself busy setting up living communes for others.”
When it comes to that, he’d love to see things go easier. He, therefore, states to have an urgent message for the municipalities, corporations and welfare organisations. “Please, look for cooperation. One cannot make the world a better place on their own.”