Thursday, September 19, 2002

Seniors ask: Why cut us?

Two long-time centers slated to lose city funding

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ninety-one year-old Mattie Walker has been going to the Mount Auburn Senior Center every day since her husband died in 1978.

        Betty Abernathy, 67, has a similar story — except that she met an 85-year-old man at the center and remarried.

[photo] At the Mount Auburn Senior Center Wednesday morning (from left) Arbersen Mitchell 89, Vera Latimore 88, and Mary Davis 73 talk during breakfast Wednesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        The Mount Auburn center, and a sister center in Over-the-Rhine are places where old people can grow older, together, one day at a time.

        If nothing changes, these centers — part social service agency, part social club — will close in December, when the city's $117,400 in funding to the two centers runs out.

        Reading news of the closures Wednesday, seniors seemed less angry than perplexed by the city's decision.

        “Why? Why us?” asked Mrs. Walker. “We've been paying taxes longer than some of these other people have.”

        The Mount Auburn center, on Auburn Avenue at the top of Sycamore Hill, is the busier of the two.

        It serves an average of 60 people a day; the center on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine serves about 50.

        Almost all are at or below the poverty level, according to Cincinnati Area Senior Services Inc., which runs the centers.

        Daily life at the centers has a predictable pattern.

        Breakfast and lunch are served daily; in between, there are games and chitchat. There are regular ceramics classes, fish fries and, this month, a Hawaiian Luau.

        That predictability also makes it vulnerable. Under a policy change by City Council in 1999, programs that don't focus on homelessness, youth or disabilities must show “innovation” or won't be funded.

        “I think they're doing us a great injustice,” said Mary Davis, 73. “If they don't like what we're doing, why don't they come up here and help us change it, rather than just closing it down?”

        Councilman David Crowley, 65, is trying to save the centers. He said $127,400 is a small price to pay for the services these centers provide.

        “I've been to both these centers, and man, they ain't nothing to write home about,” he said. Certainly nothing in comparison to lush suburban centers, he said.

        “You take the important things out of people's lives, and it leaves a big void,” said Marlene Wilks, 70. “We don't have the money to go to the symphony, or a ballgame, or anything like that. This is an important part of our life.”

        The vast majority of visitors are women. Most are over 75, and live alone within walking distance.

        “Men come, but they don't do a whole lot,” explained Mrs. Wilks. “They just play checkers and chess and cards and eat and talk.”

        The men interviewed said they come to get away from their wives.


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