Community

Ward Forum Highlights Need for Senior Activism

A room of nearly 50 seniors living in Ward 8 in Southeast were recently told to become better advocates for themselves in order get more of what seniors across the District get.

Some agreed while others looked perplexed by what they heard from senior advocates participating in a Senior Community Development Committee Forum held Friday, May 30 at Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest.

Former Ward 8 Council member Sandy Allen, who also heads the AARP Ward 8 chapter, said she was familiar with the attendees because “I can guarantee that it’s always the same people who show up at these meetings.”

“We have to become the squeaky wheel,” Allen said. “Seniors need to become proactive for the things they want in Ward 8.”

Seniors in Ward 8 represent about 8.6% of the population, less than two-thirds of the rate of seniors in the District. Over half live in their own homes and just over one-third are living in poverty, according to a Ward 8 Senior Snapshot issued by the D.C. Senior Advisory Coalition.

But the statistics may vary based upon who is defining a senior, said Philip Pannell, a Ward 8 activist and former president of the local chapter of AARP.

“AARP defines a senior as a person who is 50-plus. Patrons are eligible for a senior meal at IHOP at 55. Eligibility to join the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center begins at 60. And one is eligible for Medicare at 65. So, what is a senior?” Pannell asked jokingly.

To the contrary, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White commended the seniors for being very active towards the city council.

“I remember times when seniors took up all of the seats in the council chambers and in the overflow room. Give yourselves an applause for that,” White said. “Our office has been laser-focused that we keep seniors as a high priority.”

He praised them for their advocacy against a proposed hotel at an upcoming development called Union Square that is now promised to be a new senior living facility.

“Sometimes it’s worth a fight,” he said to applause from the crowd. “It’s imperative we stay engaged.”

White appealed to the group to tell him what services they want provided at the proposed East End Hospital at St. Elizabeths that will replace United Medical Center in Southeast when it eventually closes.

“I want to know what kind of specialty services you need, because it does us no good to put $325 million in a facility and yet it doesn’t meet the needs of the people it was designed to serve,” he said.

Other representatives of programs serving seniors also participated on the two panels and the seniors welcomed their presentations. Issues ran the gamut at the forum, including affordable senior housing, health, transportation and taxes and safety.

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