Seniors face increased difficulty as Almanac predicts blistering winter


The Clinton Senior Center provides lunch for the elderly in midtown west. Photo: Celine Hacobian.

The Clinton Senior Center provides lunch for the elderly in Midtown West. Photo: Celine Hacobian.

Mary Bornia sits with eight of her friends in the lobby of the Clinton Senior Center. She wears a heavy sweater and a scarf on a particularly windy day, and is not looking forward to the winter ahead. Her ability to get around drastically decreases as snow and black ice make even the most mundane tasks dangerous. “I fell last year on 57th street,” she says. “Thankfully, nothing happened.” She is worried about another accident this year, particularly because The Farmer’s Almanac recently predicted an extremely cold winter, with below-normal temperatures for most of the country.

But Bornia, unlike other elderly members of her neighborhood, knows that this winter she can at least find comfort in the lunches and personal relationships offered by the Clinton Center, a senior center located on 55th street between 10th and 11th avenues, because she lives nearby. Not all seniors who need such services enjoy this convenience.

In 2013, Manhattan was home to 230,914 people over the age of 64, 14.2 percent of Manhattan’s total population of 1,626,159 people. Extreme winter weather last year decreased many of these residents’ access to activities, and slippery sidewalks during the cold weather make anyone with mobility issues anxious. In spite of these risks, senior centers in Midtown West continue to hold their usual activities and events.

Clinton Senior Center is one of four centers established by Project FIND, an organization that caters to the needs of the elderly in New York City. Last month, this Center served about 1,527 lunches to 350 elderly citizens. Although the Center stays open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., its most successful component is lunch, and the busiest time is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays, according to Director Leslie-Ann McCalla. But the center does not provide transportation; to take advantage of lunch, people have to figure out how to get there safely.

Joanne Gray, director of senior services at the non-profit Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, provides meals for seniors on Monday through Friday, as well as assistance for adults who need it with food stamps, housing issues, medical appointments, and social workers. Between 75 and 100 seniors make use of the center’s services.

“We promote living independently in the community,” said Gray.

Accessibility is fairly easy for seniors who live close to the center, in Amsterdam Houses and Amsterdam Addition, but there are few transportation options for those who do not.

The Coffeehouse and Woodstock centers both fall under Project FIND and cater to homeless seniors, most of whom don’t have activities to occupy them during the daytime. Many end up wandering the streets, and most cannot afford thick winter coats to allow them to brave the winter weather. They depend heavily on clothing donations. “If you notice people on the street, you see they often don’t have much clothing on. It gets very cold,” said Debra Escort, director of special projects for Project FIND.

But in spite of these difficulties with mobility in the winter, some seniors say they wouldn’t leave New York for somewhere warmer. For Jon Pepper, who often spends time at the Clinton Center, the idea of moving out of New York is not an option. “It’s home, and there’s no place like it,” he said.

Pepper believes that transportation is the biggest problem the population faces. “Public transportation stinks,” he said. As more commuters use the subway in the winter, the lack of convenient public transportation adds to the difficulties of travel. This winter, he plans to prepare for the winter the same way he always does: by stocking up on long johns and thermal socks.