Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Delfina Reyes and others enjoyed bingo such as foxy bingo as explained here in this http://www.foxy-bingo.org.uk/ foxy bingo uk last week at the Baruch Addition Senior Citizen Center.

Seniors say closing NYCHA centers is too great a gamble

By Lesley Sussman

Just a few days after the New York City Housing Authority announced it might have to shut down many of its senior centers because of a lack of funding, news of the proposed closures spread like wildfire among the elderly poor, evoking sentiments of shock, sadness, dismay and anger.

NYCHA Chairman Tino Hernandez recently told city councilmembers that his agency was trying to close a $195 million deficit in its operating budget this year. He said that unless federal funding came through, the Housing Authority would have to eliminate all of the agency’s community-based programs, including 94 community centers and 147 senior centers operated by the agency or the city’s Department for the Aging in public housing.

Seniors living in two local NYCHA developments — one located in the East Village and another on the Lower East Side — told The Villager last week that they would be lost without the centers, which provide them with everything from social services and medical care to cultural activities.

At the Meltzer Towers Senior Center, at 91 E. First St., 72-year-old Camille Gonzalez, who is confined to a wheelchair, said she has been coming to the center, located on the ground floor of the 20-story senior citizen building, for more than 18 years.

“It’s scary to think the center may close,” she said. “Where would we seniors go?”

Gonzalez said she lives by herself and would “go crazy sitting by myself upstairs. I eat some meals here and I even volunteer and help to cook breakfasts sometimes,” she said. “I take an art class and a gardening class and also a tai chi class. I watch movies down here — we have a social hour and we go on trips. What would I do if it closed? I’m petrified and so are all the other seniors who live here. We’re afraid that next we’ll lose our apartments.”

Another Meltzer resident, Adrian Centoni, 70, said the city must make an effort to get funding for this and other senior centers from private sources if government funding fails to come through.

“In Manhattan alone, there are 30 or 40 billionaires,” Centoni said. “Supporting these centers for them would be a drop in the bucket. Yet no effort whatsoever that I know of is being made to do that. That’s a shame.”

Centoni said he and dozens of residents from the building make use of the center.

“I sometimes get food here when I’m hungry,” he added.

A few blocks east at the Baruch Addition Senior Citizen Center, at 72 Columbia St., also located in a NYCHA senior building and sponsored, in part, by The Grand Street Settlement, seniors Virginia Velazquez, 66, and August Laguer, 68, expressed sadness and anger at the possibility that the popular center might be closed.

“This is not right,” Valazquez declared. “We seniors have given New York City a lot by working and everything all our lives. They should cut other programs rather than closing these centers down. What I’d like to ask the mayor and the governor and all the senators is if they’d treat their parents like this?”

Velazquez said she regularly comes to the center for its exercise programs, cultural activities and for help with problems such as dealing with Social Security.

“This is our home away from home,” she stated. “Everyone comes here and we all get along — Spanish, Chinese, African-Americans. This center keeps us all alert in mind and body. I’ll cry if they shut it.”

Laguer, who describes himself as a fledgling poet, took a reporter on a tour of a backyard behind the center that he and a friend “turned into a garden out of nothing. We’ve planted some roses and we’re planning to do lots more,” he said. “The seniors love to sit our here now. It’s a peaceful haven.”

“It would be disastrous to close a place like this,” Laguer continued, “and it’s ridiculous to hear them crying broke. Closing senior centers would be a big mistake. This is the only thing they have. It’s very bad to see a senior citizen sitting on a bench and doing nothing but trying to feed the pigeons or a squirrel. Here they take you to outings and provide all kinds of activities, like birthday parties and cookouts. We even have coffee hour in the morning.”

Grace Rivas, the center’s activity director, said she was shocked when she heard the news.

“It would be very hard for the seniors in this building if they’re forced to travel elsewhere,” she said. “We have a lot of homebound clients that our volunteers visit, and sometimes they even make it down to the center.

“We have many seniors who are very depressed and this is a place where they can come and talk,” Rivas added. “If they close the center, I’m sure it will result in a higher depression and suicide rate.”

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