Letter to Mayor urges for robust inter-agency dialogue with providers at the table

CITY HALL____Today, Council Member Margaret Chin, Speaker Corey Johnson, and Council Member Mark Levine are leading a charge to initiate a dialogue and timeline to reopen senior centers. Older adults in New York City have been in strict confinement for more than five months now, and City Hall has not yet provided transparency on a plan to safely reopen senior centers, which vulnerable seniors depend on for nutritious and culturally sensitive meals and case management services. The New York City Council letter calls on the Mayor to provide immediate and consistent guidance on the city’s vision and stages for reopening, with detailed information on timeline, funding, and community outreach.

“Another day we leave providers in the dark about reopening senior centers is another opportunity lost to create a truly community-led reopening plan that takes the safety and needs of senior center staff and the older adults they serve into account,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Senior isolation has always been dangerous, and its impact is even more widely felt during this pandemic. Kicking the can down the road is not an option. This dialogue must be proactive and inclusive. We need City Hall to bring seniors and providers to the table today.”

“Many members of New York City’s aging population depend on senior centers for meals and companionship. As we continue to reopen the City, we need a comprehensive plan to reopen senior centers while prioritizing seniors’ health and safety,” said Speaker Corey Johnson

“There are real emotional and medical consequences to long term isolation for seniors. While recognizing the unique vulnerability of this group, it is time to begin planning for safe ways to start offering in-person services for our seniors again,” said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health.  

Senior centers in New York City have been closed since March, pivoting their programs and operations practically overnight to ensure seniors are fed and stay connected  Since the brink of the pandemic, the City has thrown herculean tasks on nonprofit senior center providers with minimal support. In a couple of weeks, providers were forced to transition their congregate meal programs to grab-and-go, and eventually to home delivery before it was absorbed by the GetFood NYC program. With seniors having reported numerous issues with the GetFood NYC program, from missed deliveries to receiving either culturally inappropriate or nutritionally inadequate food, and with more seniors in need of direct in-person services, senior centers are eager to resume their work to give seniors the quality meals and case services they deserve.

Many older adults have already been visiting their senior centers this summer to get relief from the heat, as certain centers have been designated as cooling centers. However, these centers were not allowed to provide any food or programming.

Community-based providers know their communities the best, yet have been left in the dark by City Hall when it comes to shaping expectations and procedures for a safe senior center reopening plan. In their letter, the Council Members are calling on City Hall to bring these providers back to the table to provide their feedback to reopen centers safely and responsibly.

 “Settlement houses have been serving their communities continuously throughout the pandemic while showing enormous creativity and adaptability; and despite not being able to gather in person, senior centers are no exception. Now is the time to look forward. Senior centers need clear guidance, timelines, and support from the City as they transition back toward the new normal. We thank Council Members Chin and Levine for leading the charge on this critical issue,” said Tara Klein, Policy Analyst at United Neighborhood Houses.


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