More and better resourced senior centers. A senior corps where in exchange for volunteering, you get free vacation trips. Better public transit. Prioritizing the clearing of senior buildings and bus stops during snowstorms.
Democratic mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez pitched those at ideas at the Fair Haven Elderly Apartments on Saltonstall Street Monday afternoon as he rolled out his senior citizen platform.
He heard from Adelle Rios, Nelida Padilla, and other seniors cries for help from a building besieged by prostitutes to whom some residents are tossing down keys to permit illegal entry.
“What we need is peace and quiet,” said Padilla, a resident since 1996 at the federal Section 8-subsidized senior and disabled complex owned by Arco Management Corporation of Cheshire.
Through a translator Padilla told the candidate that about how a small number of tenants, recent arrivals at the attractively situated complex, create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear when they toss keys down to prostitutes who let themselves in.
That complaint came out in a quiet but anxious torrent, spurred by Fernandez’s campaign stop.
About a dozen tenants and their families joined the candidate as he set up in the lobby with an ice cart and volunteers like Dominique Jefferson (pictured) wearing aprons that declared, “Let me serve you.”
“There couldn’t be a better mayor than one who lives only one block away,” Fernandez concluded in a speech to the group. Then came the questions.
Fernandez said he wasn’t surprised that tenants wanted to talk about crime rather than, say, his senior volunteer corps.
“There needs to be more security here and in other housing authority buildings,” said Fernandez.
Adelle Rios, an eight-year resident at the complex, echoed her friend Padilla: “A new person is giving out keys, his key.”
Rios described being awoken at night by screams and then being unable to fall back asleep. “Because they [key-throwers] pay rent on time, they can’t get them out,” said Rios.
“So far only prostitutes have been arrested,” said Rios.
A brief interview with site manager Sonia Castro (pictured) confirmed the tenants’ stories. Management held an Aug. 13 meeting with top Fair Haven cop Sgt. Herb Johnson and Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro. As a result, beginning last week, police have stationed an officer in the building beginning at 5 p.m., when Sonia Castro leaves her office. The building has no private security. The hours the police are in the complex vary.
They arrested two prostitutes on Saturday. Management is moving on at last one eviction of a resident, Castro said.
“It’s helped. It’s going to take a little while, but we’re trying our best,” she added.
Prostitution has been a problem for years in the area, Fernandez said with a glance out the sunlit window toward lower Ferry Street. He repeated the need for security enhancements.
Fernandez’s platform emphasizes that seniors need to be able to feel safe in their homes, on the sidewalks, and parks, in buildings free of drugs and crime, “so people who have given so much are safe,” he said.
Fernandez also said that older people can give of their expertise at every level—from individuals tutoring in the schools to major league executive assistance. The benefits will flow both ways, he declared.
In an interview with reporters—as the residents had dispersed—Fernandez talked about seniors in New Haven being part of the solution, not a problem.
Click here on the candidate’s site for the four-page platform of specific proposals. Here are some highlights:
• Senior Centers: Fernandez recalled the day when the city boasted nine senior centers. He wants to increase the current three to more, funding permitting “as we strengthen the budget.” He feels the spaces are under-resourced, with no room in most of them, for example, for aerobics. So he wants each center to offer a wider range of activities. He said other cities offer aerobics, G.E.D. training.
In Dixwell, “there’s a need for a full service community center that can take advantage of inter-generational education. Seniors can teach cooking as a trade, for example, and on the other hand young [people] can teach the Internet to seniors,” he added.
• Of the new service corps, the platform reads: “Henry believes seniors can help solve New Haven problems. Seniors will volunteer to advise small businesses, mentor youth, and serve on city boards; then in exchange this community service for free trips and activities.”
Fernandez said that the trips and activities available already at the centers are insufficient and sometimes require seniors to pay.
• The platform also calls for fixing and raising curbs and lowering taxes. “A significant number of seniors are homeowners. A senior in Morris Cove told me they’re really struggling to keep their home because of taxes. Every year they contemplate selling. I don’t want to lose those folks because New Haven has become too expensive to live in,” he said.
Fernandez staffers said the ices and the aprons have traveled to seven or eight senior buildings or sites in the past week alone, and more on the calendar.