Senior centers must fight for survival
by Daniel Bush
Mar 08, 2011 | 1081 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If the Shalom Senior Center in Crown Heights closes, hundreds of neighborhood residents won't have access to kosher meals. The Albany Avenue facility is the only one of its kind in the area that serves kosher food, according to Executive Director Shimon Herz.

“This [would be] a huge, huge blow to our community,” Herz said.

Shalom is one of 31 senior centers in Brooklyn - and 105 citywide, including 22 in Queens - that would close if the state approves Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal.

Cuomo plans to use $25 million in state aid for New York City senior centers to cover child welfare services. The cut would affect between 8,000 and 10,000 seniors who rely on the centers for meals, other services and companionship.

“It's unconscionable that we are considering closing” the centers, said Councilwoman Letitia James.

Igal Jellinek, executive director of the Council of Senior Centers & Services of New York City, an advocacy organization, said the closures would have a “devastating impact on thousands of seniors.”

The proposed cut is “extreme and unnecessary,” he added.

State senate and assembly Democrats are urging the governor to extend the so-called millionaire's tax on wealthy New Yorkers that is set to expire at the end of this year. It would bring in $1 billion in revenue that could go towards things like senior services.

But Cuomo and senate Republicans are opposed to the idea.

The fight over the Title XX funds used to help pay for senior centers played out last year as well, when the city closed more than two dozen facilities. This time around, as lawmakers in Albany hammer out a deal, officials have expressed concern that the results could be even worse.

“Senior centers are a lifeline,” said State Senator Eric Adams. “If you cut that lifeline you turn your back on one of the most important aspects of our community.”

David Weiss, 87, eats lunch every day at the Jubilee Senior Center in Brooklyn Heights, where he has made new friends and enjoys afternoon movies. The center isn't slated for closure, but if it did close, Weiss said he would be at a loss to come up with ways to stay active.

“I would really suffer,” he said. “I would have nowhere to go.”

Approximately 90 percent of the seniors served by the Queensbridge-Riis Senior Center and the Ravenswood Senior Center live below the poverty line. “We need to make sure our seniors have a place to go,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan.

Elsewhere in Queens, officials took time off from the spending battle to welcome a new senior center and 183-unit housing facility in Astoria. The HANAC George T. Douris Tower opened March 8, and features a library, exercise space, and a green roof, among other amenities.

If its neighboring senior centers close, the new center could get crowded very quickly.
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