Seniors in Queens are concerned that they may soon have nowhere to go if the governor’s budget cuts pass.
Seven centers in western Queens are on the chopping block, according to a list released last week.
Astoria resident Josephine Forlano, 85, is not happy with the governor’s plans. “We were the backbone of the country. Here we did our part, and we are getting the dirty end of everything,” Forlano said.
She visits Catholic Charities’ Steinway Senior Center in Astoria, which is now in jeopardy. She used to organize trips for the center, and said the revenue produced by the tours and by the center’s other activities should be recognized as useful by the government.
The Steinway center is located four blocks from Forlano’s home and if it closes, she said she wasn’t sure what she would do. “I was happy to have some place to go out and join people and be happy for the last few years of our life. We are not asking for much,” she said.
Judy Kleve, vice president of older adult services for Catholic Charities, which operates centers in Queens and Brooklyn said the organization’s Astoria center was targeted because it serves lunch to approximately 70 people per day. She said centers serving fewer than 85 people and those with facility problems were first to get the ax.
However, according to Kleve, the centers actually help the city save money. “It’s more cost effective for the city, that’s what the city doesn’t get,” Kleve said. “These centers keep people out of the hospitals and institutions and keep them contributing to the community.”
Elmcor Senior Center in East Elmhurst and its Lefrak City branch are both facing the same fate as their Astoria neighbor. Employee Danielle Burton said the centers, which also serve smaller populations, have routinely faced economic hardship. “We haven’t had extras in a long time. I call it paper cutting us to death,” said Burton.
Though the centers have suffered through tough times in the past, Burton said they have never been on a closure list. “One senior just called me today, he’s flipping out,” Burton said.
Of the 200 people served by the two Elmcor centers, Burton said many of the clients are not fully mobile and cannot trek long distances to receive services. She said there were no other centers in the immediate area. “What senior is going to take what bus to go where?” Burton asked rhetorically.
Elected officials including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) have pledged to do their parts to help save the senior centers. “Our seniors have done so much for us, the least we can do is make sure they have the ability to enjoy their golden years with respect and dignity,” Gianaris said in a statement.
Van Bramer too spoke out against the potential closures. “It is unacceptable to close both the Queensbridge-Riis Senior Center and the Ravenswood Senior Center. Ninety percent of individuals who use senior centers are below the poverty line,” Van Bramer said. “We cannot and will not balance the budget on the back of our seniors, we will fight to keep these doors open.”
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) has three senior centers which may close in her district, including the IPR HE Corona Senior Center. She will attend a rally on March 19 at 1 p.m., at the another center in jeopardy, the Florence E. Smith Senior Center, also in Corona.
An 81-year-old who attends Elmcor Senior Center in East Elmhurst, Emma Fulwood said she was devastated by news of the budget cuts. “We worked all our years to have something to look forward to in our older age, and now they are trying to take it away from us. It’s not really fair. Is there anything that can be done to help us keep it open?” she asked.