Port Richmond: Senior Residents Ready for New Housing
Due to limited housing for the seniors in the neighborhood, many opt for housing opportunities in neighboring areas such as Fishtown, Bridesburg or Kensington to better serve their needs. Some senior residents of Port Richmond have moved to the Neumann Senior Housing (formerly St. Mary’s Hospital) at 1601 E. Palmer St. and others have settled into private rental homes. Oftentimes, seniors struggle to get around in these two or three-story homes. The remaining seniors live with their sons or daughters who take care of them because they have no other safe havens to turn to.
“Where do seniors go?” said Port Richmond senior Rosemary Bradshaw. “We go with our relatives but we end up losing ourselves and a certain amount of independence.”
Bradshaw said there is no senior housing outside of Neumann. She lives in a two-story rental home and limits the times she goes up and down the stairs. On a good day, Bradshaw can use the stairs five times and on a bad day when her legs give, she can only use the stairs twice.
The consensus from the community of Port Richmond is affordable senior housing is needed. Many elderly residents are anxious about the plan to turn the former Nativity B.V.M. parish school located at the corner of Belgrade and East Madison Streets into senior housing but others are skeptical about plans actually being put into action. Collectively, the seniors have received little information about the specifics of the plans and wish to know more.
Sisters and senior residents of Port Richmond, Joan Pacell, Joanne Keen and Dorothy Dimmick, all plan to put their names on the waiting list for the future senior housing location.
“I heard they offer reasonable rent and that they’ll have one bedroom or two bedroom apartments for couples,” Pacell said.
The sisters said they’re not good at sharing so they could not live in the same house but living in the same apartment unit would be a suitable living situation. They also said they would not mind if other seniors in neighboring areas lived in the same building.
“I don’t care if other people are involved,” Keen said. “Living on one floor would be nice.”
Dimmick said she is excited to see the transition and hopes they will begin construction this year.
“Sounds like a good plan,” Pacell said. “Our kids don’t have to ship us out of the state!”
Senior resident of Port Richmond John McCloskey said turning Nativity into senior housing would greatly help the older people in the community. McCloskey’s 83-year-old mother lives with him and he takes care of her. He said it is difficult living with her because he is also getting older and she has many needs.
Port Richmond senior Eileen Woods said the dynamics of Philadelphia neighborhoods are changing. She explained many people, including her friends and her family members, have left Port Richmond to find opportunities elsewhere whether the reasons be senior housing or public schooling.
Bradshaw said many former residents of Port Richmond have moved out of the neighborhood for safety reasons.
“Unfortunately our neighborhood has changed,” Bradshaw said. “Drug dealers are taking over and doing as they please. They carry guns up and down the street.”
Bradshaw said she has witnessed many street brawls outside her home. She said the inundation of Section 8 housing brought drug dealers into the community.
“When I go beyond Aramingo Avenue, I feel unsafe,” Bradshaw said. “If there was housing for seniors that was safe, affordable and up and running, I’m interested in doing it.”
Similar to the limited readily available housing options for the elderly residents of Port Richmond, local senior community centers are also scarce.
“When the numbers go down, they want to get rid of you,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey is referring to the politics behind local facilities such as senior centers. When certain quotas are not met, the organization that funds various activities stops offering their services.
McCloskey occasionally goes to the Port Richmond Senior Center located at 3068 Belgrade St. on weekdays. On Tuesday around 10 a.m., the center was nearly desolate with only four seniors in the center’s main sitting area including McCloskey. A few years ago, more than 30 senior citizens came to the center. McCloskey said eight years ago, there was a line out the door every day for lunch.
Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), a private, non-profit organization offers its services to local senior community centers such as Port Richmond Senior Center and St. Anne’s. The organization carries out its mission to improve the quality of life for older Philadelphians by assisting them in achieving their maximum level of health, independence and health care needs. In 2002-2003, when PCA offered 50-cent lunches every weekday at Port Richmond Senior Center, many seniors in the neighborhood took advantage of the bargain and came to eat, play cards and chat with friends. When the quota of 35 seniors in attendance was not consistently met at the center, PCA cut funding for the discounted lunch program. As a result, attendance decreased significantly.
“A lot of people that came regularly passed away,” McCloskey said. “The seniors also used to split the week up between two or three different centers in the neighborhood, now they just go to one because it’s more convenient.”
McCloskey said the only other senior center offered in Port Richmond is St. Anne’s on 2607 E. Cumberland St. Barbara Jo Hartzell, the director of At. Anne’s, said there is no fee to join the center and there is a daily breakfast and lunch offered in which the center collects donations to cover meal costs. Ongoing activities at the center include Tai Chi, salsa dancing and crocheting class.
“St. Anne’s is here for seniors in the neighborhood to come for different activities and to meet new people,” Hartzell said. “But there still is an urgent need for senior housing in the area.”
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by By Amay Smith and Christina Trinh