The driving force behind Linkage House, as conceived by Mount Sinai faculty, was the conviction that the health of older people is profoundly influenced by the physical and psychological quality of their surroundings. In 1993, following a feasibility study of alternative-housing models, the School joined the Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle, Inc., Union Settlement Association and the Greater Emmanuel Baptist Church to sponsor housing for the elderly in East Harlem with core funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Linkage House took in its first residents in May 1997.
The name "Linkage House" reflects the shared vision of the sponsors: to link the residents with safe and affordable housing, to link residents to the community through a variety of programs and to link the generations through educational and recreational activities. Its objectives are:
- To increase the availability of affordable housing for low-income, elderly residents of East Harlem.
- To provide meaningful roles for older people through shared activities with other residents and through intergenerational programs that would at the same time expand the availability of after-school care for East Harlem children ages five through twelve.
- To improve access to health care.
Linkage House has become home to people who would otherwise spend their older years in isolation in substandard conditions without adequate healthcare, as illustrated by these profiles of residents (names have been changed):
- Mrs. Morgan, a 65-year-old African American woman, had three strokes and suffers from partial paralysis. She was sleeping on a small, uncomfortable couch in her sister's apartment. Her alcoholic sister and her boyfriend were abusive to her. With one child in Chicago, Mrs. Morgan lacked a supportive social network. Now she lives at Linkage House with the assistance of a home attendant six hours a day. She joins in all sponsored activities at the residence, shops, takes walks with her attendant, and is finally having much needed dental work because she wants to look more attractive.
- At 64, Mr. Rodriguez lived in the back room of a barbershop in East Harlem. When he moved into Linkage House, he was depressed and had a stooped posture. His only belongings fit into a small shopping cart. Through donations arranged by the Linkage House social services team, he received a bed, linens, towels, and other necessities to furnish his apartment. Mr. Rodriguez is now well functioning and attends a nearby lunch program for older adults.