By The TimesLedger
The battle over the city’s budget is just heating up. We don’t envy the mayor who must find ways to slash spending without cutting important services. And we continue to maintain that those who take issue with the mayor’s executive budget should offer an alternative for balancing the budget. That said, we agree with Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Astoria), who has criticized the proposal to reduce funding for Meals on Wheels.
In the mayor’s plan, the program that provides hot meals daily to about 4,000 seniors throughout Queens would be replaced by a pilot program at the Department for the Aging that would instead provide frozen meals once or twice weekly.
Not a good idea. Meals on Wheels works because it is easy. The elderly who depend on these wheels don’t have to do anything but open their doors. The meals arrive warm and ready to eat. For some, it is only real meal that they get each day.
But Meals on Wheels is about more than food and nutrition. For some of the elderly recipients, the visit from Meals on Wheels is the only human contact they have. They look forward as much to the brief visit as they do to the food.
“Many of our seniors depend on Meals on Wheels to provide a hot meal along with some much-needed human contact six days per week,” said Judy Zangwill, the executive director of Sunnyside Community Services. “These cuts would be extremely detrimental to the well-being of thousands of seniors.”
It is, of course, easy to say that cutting back on Meals on Wheels is wrong. The tough part is finding something else to cut or a way to increase revenues. Perhaps Councilman Gioia and others can find corporate sponsors who would be willing to share the burden of providing services for senior citizens. It’s fair to say that the ball has moved to his court.
In a decision that will have long-term consequences for people living in Jamaica, the Board of Standards and Appeals has turned thumbs down on a request to expand an existing homeless shelter. The Saratoga Interfaith Family Inn, which already serves 225 families, was seeking permission to add space for 91 additional families.
We applaud the work done by Department of Homeless Services and the many companies that contract with this agency to provide space for homeless families. Without this compassionate care, the city would be faced with the unthinkable – entire families living on the city’s sidewalks. But the sheltered homeless are a drain on the neighborhood. It is understandable that no community wants more than its fair share of homeless shelters.
According to Borough President Helen Marshall, the area within five miles of the Saratoga already has 12 shelters caring for more than 1,000 families. Marshall said the influx of additional shelter residents in the area would further burden schools, police precincts, ambulance services and firehouses. Because the Saratoga is a Tier II facility, the residents cannot stay there more than 23 days. Imagine the impact that a facility with this kind of turnover has on a community.
The city needs a master plan that can aid in making decisions about where to place future shelters so that no community has to feel overburdened.