The face of Queens is getting older, as is the rest of New York City. Fortunately, a wide range of both public and private services exists for the “gray market.”
Queens ties with Brooklyn for having the highest percentage of residents aged 60 and over among the boroughs, at about 30 percent, according to a 2012 city report, “Census 2010: Changes in the Elderly Population of New York City, 2000 to 2010.” Queens had the second-largest elderly population of any borough in 2010, at 402,638 persons, while Brooklyn had 411,740.
And though 60 may be the new 40, with many who are labeled senior citizens living as active lives as they always have, others are more in need of the services that are available.
Seniors and their caregivers in need of services can of course get the basic 411 by calling 311, or by visiting the Department for the Aging’s website at nyc.gov/aging and clicking on “Senior Services and Programs” in the left-hand column. The site offers information on everything from public benefits to nutrition to volunteerism.
Another place to turn is SelfHelp Community Services, one of the largest nonprofit human services agencies in NYC. SelfHelp was founded in 1946 to help people fleeing from Nazi-ravaged Germany and currently helps Holocaust survivors, the elderly and other at-risk populations.
“We serve 20,000 elderly, frail and vulnerable New Yorkers every year,” and SelfHelp is the largest services provider to Holocaust survivors in North America, said Sandy Myers, its director of government and external relations.
SelfHelp provides affordable, independent senior housing, case management, home healthcare, court-appointed guardians and an Alzheimer’s Resources Program. It recently received a contract to provide an information referral hotline for long-term care, and runs five senior centers, four Naturally Occurring Retirement Community programs in Queens for seniors who have “aged in place,” a term for those who remain in their long-term homes, and a virtual senior center.
Queens seniors who are interested in these services can call (212) 947-8701 or visit SelfHelp.net to see if they’re eligible for the group’s services or, if not, to get a referral. The offices of City Council members and state senators and assemblymembers are also usually available to make referrals.
Affordable senior housing is still considered to be scarce in NYC and usually assigned by lottery, so those looking for a placement should check not only with the city government but private and religious groups as well.
Senior centers provide a chance for seniors to meet with peers and work with staff to connect with services. A list of them is included in this special section. The centers provide drop-in socialization, daily low-cost meals for a few dollars and free classes.
Often, certain senior centers become known for specialized programs. For example, the Maspeth Senior Center offers free English classes for Chinese speakers and tai chi classes, among others. The Maspeth center’s phone number is (718) 429-3636. The Bayside Senior Center offers appointments with a trained Medicare specialist every other Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; appointments can be made by calling (718) 225-1144.
Among the many other senior centers in Queens that usually offer a choice of craft, computer and exercise or dance classes are the Howard Beach Center, at (718) 738-8100; the Young Israel of Queens Valley Center in Flushing, at (718) 263-6995 and the SNAP of Eastern Queens Senior Center in Queens Village, at (718) 454-2100.
For seniors who are unable to travel, the Queens Library’s Mail-A-Book program offers much more than its name reveals, including discussions over the phone and online get-togethers, all coordinated by a caring staff. For details, visit queenslibrary.org/books/mail-a-book or call (718) 464-0084.
Similarly, SelfHelp’s Virtual Senior Center isn’t just a solitary distraction, but rather a fully interactive experience. Seniors can register at vcsm.selfhelp.net and enjoy live interaction by taking classes in a very wide range of topics such as laughter yoga or offerings from the New School, the New-York Historical Society and more.
Myers said the virtual senior center is also creating a social games feature where seniors will be able to connect online with others to play popular games such as Rummy in real time using Skype, with an easy one-button sign-on.
The NORC services run by SelfHelp and others are comprehensive programs that help seniors connect with services. Clearview Gardens, an all-ages residential co-op in northeastern Queens, bills itself as a NORC that also provides special services for seniors through a program coordinated by the community’s Board of Directors and the Samuel Field YM-YWHA, according to its website. Clearview Gardens says it offers seniors a “phone buddy” system among residents, teen volunteers to help with shopping and other assistance.
For those who are able to get around on public transportation, reduced-fare MetroCards are available to seniors age 65 and older. The application can be downloaded off the MTA.info website.
Subway stairs can be a barrier for seniors with mobility issues, but they can still use buses and certain subway stations.
“The MTA is committed to making the subway system more accessible, and so far 111 subway and Staten Island Railway stations are accessible,” MTA spokeswoman Amanda Kwan said. “By 2020, that number will rise to 144. We have allocated $729.4 million in the 2015-19 Capital Program to improve accessibility.”
The MTA is ahead of schedule to make 100 “key stations” accessible by 2020, with 85 completed, Kwan said. Key stations have strong ridership and transfer connections and are close to major destinations. There are also 26 accessible nonkey stations, with 18 more planned by 2020.
In the present, prior planning is usually necessary to determine if a subway ride is possible. On the MTA.info site, click on the Trip Planner widget on the upper-right corner of the home page.
“It builds an itinerary from end point to end point, and if the user checks the ‘Accessible Trip?’ checkbox, the itinerary will specify which stations/routes would be ADA accessible,” Kwan said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act. “If customers do not have access to the Internet, they can also call 511 for help for trip planning.”
Riders should also check the status of subway elevators they plan to use, which is listed on the MTA website, and they can sign up for text or email alerts about those they use regularly.
All customers, including seniors, can use the “Late Night Request-A-Stop” service on local buses from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which allows riders to ask the driver to let them off at any location that is not a regular stop as long as it can be done safely.
For those who need more assistance, the MTA’s Access-A-Ride service is available. It provides pre-certified people with disabilities who are unable to use mass transit with transportation within the service area covered by buses and subways. The fare is the exact same price that would have been charged on the subways or buses for the same trip. The MTA site provides full information on eligibility and applying for Access-A-Ride services.
Grocery shopping can be difficult for even young New Yorkers without a car, or those with cars in congested neighborhoods. But help in that area also is at hand. Many chains and even smaller grocers offer free home delivery (but this is NYC, so don’t forget to tip). Shoppers usually choose items in-store, but some stores take phone orders.
And don’t forget to ask about senior discounts at the grocery store (and everywhere else). Foodtown’s Orchard Market and Key Food both offer seniors a 5 percent discount on Wednesdays, while C-Town offers a full 10 percent.
For those who can’t shop and can’t prepare meals, CityMeals On Wheels delivers. The service is free for those who are physically or mentally incapacitated and in need of assistance, unable to prepare nutritious meals and without a friend or family member to do so, and able to live safely at home. The group raises private funds to cover costs. Its website, citymeals.org, says it served more than three million meals last year to more than 18,000 frail aged people in every borough.
To get started, visit the group’s website and click on “Get Meals,” then enter your ZIP code to find out which agency serves your area.