Strangers Become Family at This Multigenerational Housing Project

A unique affordable-housing community supports both foster families and elders who might be looking for a few extra grandchildren.

After a long day of preschool, 5-year-old Joaquin Crowell still has energy to burn. He bounds from a TV cartoon to a magnetic fishing game, from blowing up a green balloon to listening to his favorite story, Bedtime for Frances. And 73-year-old Chris Conners is only too happy to oblige. To Joaquin, she is his oma— “grandma” in her native German. And to Conners, “He’s like my grandson. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him.”

Joaquin isn’t the only child Conners watches regularly in the comfort of her apartment. She is one of 29 senior citizens who live at Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, where elders help neighbors in myriad ways, gaining what amounts to an extended family in return.

That’s the mission of this privately funded nonprofit organization that established a multigenerational community on a former elementary school site in North Portland. The cluster of townhomes and apartments brings together low-income elders and nine adults who have adopted or are in the process of adopting children out of foster care through an organization that provides on-site services and creates a support network for all. Inspired by Hope Meadows, a similar development in Illinois, Bridge Meadows is building an additional site in the Portland suburb of Beaverton and has become a model for others, from a home for pregnant teens aging out of foster care in Washington, D.C., to a community for Native American foster families and elders across town in Portland.

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