Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, East Flatbush, Crown Heights) yesterday turned the tragic reports of 12 deaths among elderly residents at two complexes in Brownsville from COVID-19 related causes into the distribution of free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) face mask packs to residents in front of Van Dyke housing development, on the corner of Blake Avenue and Powell Street.
The Van Dyke Houses, part of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), had a good number of the 12 deaths, and the goal of Adams and Amry-Samuel is to visit every NYCHA building in need of supplies to hopefully prevent more deaths.
Although it was in response to grim circumstances, the officials and community advocates strung up green balloons and happily conversed with people as they came to get their masks. People were encouraged not to linger too long or close so there wouldn’t be too much of a crowd.
Ampry-Samuel said the senior deaths in the NYCHA buildings are more so a failure of the city and state government.
“We need this kind of leadership,” said Christopher Legree, a parent coordinator for the Brownsville Collaborative Middle School, and long-time Brownsville resident.
“We’re definitely feeling the economic crunch, the kids’ education is on pause, we need to do something,” said Legree. He sported a hand-made, brightly colored Kente cloth mask that his students had made for him.
“Because we have seniors that live in apartments alone. These buildings that surround us, down the block, Woodson Houses, Van Dyke II. These are senior only buildings, and we should have had a plan in place, a strategy to make sure we were in contact,” said Ampry-Samuel.
Data, provided by the borough president’s office, indicates that nearly 25 percent of all NYCHA residents are 62 years of age or older. Middle-aged residents over 20 in these complexes are also more likely to be hospitalized for asthma, one of the underlying conditions linked to the coronavirus, than non-residents.
“I don’t think all of them died from the virus, but I don’t know,” said Lisa Kenner, president of the Van Dyke Resident Association, as she handed out mask packs to people from a huge plastic bag. “I just know we lost some people.”
She said it’s like anyone who dies now, dies from coronavirus, but many of the elderly are dealing with many health issues without access to help anymore.
When asked how so many seniors were overlooked, Adams said that he thinks many seniors went to the hospitals and they were told to go home because of the overflow.
“There was a stigma that was attached that the most vulnerable population was our senior population,” said Adams, “and those caregivers, senior centers, adult daycare centers, all of them were closed down without a plan to replace that closure. And that created a lack of awareness of our senior population.”
Adams said that that’s been the biggest mistake.
Adams said the plan is to go door-to-door and hand out masks with instructions to residents.
This move came just as Governor Andrew Cuomo formally announced a mask mandate for the city, also on Wednesday, that starts in three days to allow everyone to get a face covering.