The fastest-growing population in the city is a group we’re all going to join if we’re lucky –– senior citizens.
Yet the pandemic has been cruelest to the city’s seniors. And as the five boroughs head into election season yet again, New York City’s senior population wants to make sure they aren’t left further behind.
On their list of demands: housing stability, food security, reopened senior centers and funding for the services that they provide.
These are just some of the issues that New York City’s seniors want prioritized by the myriad candidates running for office in the upcoming 2021 citywide elections, according to LiveOn NY, a citywide senior advocacy organization which recently held listening sessions with some of New York’s older adults about the upcoming elections.
“The desires were very unselfish in the sense that it was about making better communities, about having better services for everyone across the board,” said Katelyn Andrews, the Director of Public Policy at LiveOn NY. “And senior services and their lack of investment certainly rose to the top of the issues.”
LiveOn NY held two virtual listening sessions with seniors scattered across the five boroughs that included online polling, and open dialogue. Around 80 seniors logged on to share their views –– from senior center regulars to a professor at CUNY –– and more than 100 filled out the pre-event survey, the organization said.
According to the polls taken during the sessions, the participants wanted incoming elected officials to focus on housing stability, senior service nonprofits and access to healthcare. Also on the list of priorities were mental health support, food insecurity and internet access.
As COVID-19 vaccines are distributed and the city starts to regain its footing, they want to make sure they are included as well. They want elected officials to fully fund senior services and to reopen the city’s senior centers which have been closed since March because of the ongoing pandemic. They asked for expanded internet services for seniors stuck at home and for access to job opportunities for seniors who were laid off.
The concerns ran the gamut, Andrews said, but one theme, in particular, came up often: power.
“What they really wanted to talk about was their own power and voice in this upcoming local election,” said Andrews.
There are over 1.8 million older adults in New York City, she said. They are the city’s fastest-growing population and make up nearly 20% of the city’s population on the whole. Yet, the Department of Aging is vastly underfunded and receives less than half of 1% of the city’s budget. And the seniors feel it, she said.
“The sense that I got was that they felt that they hadn’t been heard for some time and that their needs had been somewhat overlooked,” she said.
Allison Nickerson, Executive Director of LiveOn NY, said that the pandemic has been particularly difficult for seniors and there needs to be more focus on keeping them connected to their communities despite the challenges.
“We need to be very thoughtful as a city and a state about how seniors are going to thrive as things come online and people start to get vaccinated,” said Nickerson.
The city knows how to provide youth services and keep teenagers off the streets and occupied, she said. It knows how to provide for young children through programs such as Universal Pre-K. Now is the time to make sure seniors aren’t left behind, especially since we’ll all –– hopefully –– be seniors one day.
“We are all aging,” she said. “We need to make a commitment going into the election and during COVID, to understand how to help all of us plug-in as we enter our later years.”
This story first appeared on KCP sister site Queens County Politics.