By Anna Gustafson
More than 300 borough residents crowded into a Forest Hills school last Thursday evening to protest proposed state budget cuts they say could decimate programs that serve thousands of residents throughout Queens.
The cuts would deliver a serious blow to a number of senior, community and youth services provided by Queens Community House, a Forest Hillsâˆ’based nonprofit that hosted the protest at JHS 190 on Austin Street, event participants said.
“It would be a sheer disaster,” Forest Hills resident Janet Bell, 84, said of the possibility that proposed funding cuts could dismantle Queens Community House’s adult day services.
“It would be the cruelest, most awful thing to happen to me,” Bell continued. “I can’t see well, so I can’t read books, I can’t read the newspaper. Without this, I’d be sitting alone in the bedroom.”
Queens Community House faces the possible elimination of its eviction prevention program and cuts in funding to a series of programs, including senior centers, services for homebound adults and immigrants and programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and seniors.
Queens Community House serves about 20,000 people annually in neighborhoods throughout the borough, including Astoria, Rego Park, Jamaica, Ozone Park, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Flushing and Kew Gardens.
“The whole system would be set back 25 years with these cuts,” Queens Community House Assistant Executive Director Naomi Altman said of social services provided to Queens residents.
The crowd often burst into applause and cheered frequently during the twoâˆ’hour event, during which about 20 individuals representing the programs that could receive budget slashes spoke.
“The budget is a political document, and it’s important for citizens who care about how things work — schools, social service agencies — to get involved in the budget process,” Queens Community House Executive Director Irma Rodriguez told the packed room. “It’s not our duty to do whatever they say, but to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is what’s important to us.”
For people like Rego Park resident Sam Binder and Forest Hills resident Louis Shayman, that is maintaining funding for all the nonprofit’s services, especially adult transportation and the Forest Hills Senior Center. The transportation services bring older adults to borough senior centers, on weekly food shopping trips and to monthly social outings.
“When I moved into the Forest Hills cooperative 21 years ago, I didn’t know at the time I’d made one of the best decisions of my life,” said Shayman, 88. “The senior center is right around the corner, and I’m going to the center on a regular basis now. I spend threeâˆ’quarters of my day there. If the senior center were taken away from me, I’d be devastated. We’d all be devastated.”
Gov. David Paterson has proposed closing a $15 billion state budget gap by making large cuts in areas like education and health care. Other cuts have been proposed to programs such as senior services, disability services, housing assistance and crisis intervention programs.
In order to maintain their programs, residents and Queens Community House employees called on Paterson to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers in lieu of trimming human services.
Protesters have asked Paterson to raise state taxes for New Yorkers making $250,000 or more — a move the governor has criticized, saying it would drive wealthier residents from the state.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by eâˆ’mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 174.