What is it like to be old and poor and living in the most prosperous region in the country? Well, right now it is particularly bad. It’s not news to most of us that we are living in a new “Gilded Age”, where income disparity is greater than it has been in decades, maybe longer, and not much is being done to breach the chasm. By Carol Johnson MSW Executive Director Many poor disabled seniors rely on incomes of $877 a month, the amount paid through Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI. We read about the skyrocketing cost of apartment rentals, the onslaught of the “Google kids”, the rise in Ellis Act evictions, the increase of new property development, and wonder, “How do people do it?” How do people who have so little, perhaps nothing, make ends meet? One answer that helps to bridge the gap is St. Mary’s Center, along the San Pablo Avenue corridor, in West Oakland. On most sunny days in the garden, there are picnic tables with umbrellas up. Seniors sit outside talking or playing dominoes. In the mornings, there is a small line of people waiting to go into the community center for coffee and pastries. And at noon, they greet each other, gather around tables, and have a hot lunch. Started as a result of a community organizing project in 1970, St. Mary’s Center believes that everyone needs a place – to live, to belong, and to shine! We work with extremely low-income seniors and preschool children. Many of our seniors, before coming
to St. Mary’s were very isolated – some were or are homeless, others have a small apartment, which they do not leave very often – and all of them have a tough time extending their meager budget to pay for basics. One of St. Mary’s hallmarks is a “one-stop” shop; all of our services are at one location, no running around town. Our senior program is divided into Senior Homeless Services and Resources for the Third Age, which helps housed seniors age in place. Our Homeless Services provides an Emergency Winter Shelter, and comprehensive case management support to help participants access permanent housing, food, psychiatric care, addiction recovery programs, and financial management. Resources for the Third Age provides health assessments, friendly visitors, health education, bags of groceries and exercise and art classes. Participants learn to accident-proof their apartments so they don’t fall and how to watch for bad medication interactions. All St. Mary’s seniors are invited to have lunch at the Community Center six days a week, including our Sunday Dinner program, where community volunteers bring and cook dinner for our participants. St. Mary’s Center has a strong core of volunteers and donors and you are invited to join them! St. Mary’s Center preschool provides two classes each week-day during the school year. It is a state certified play-based preschool, which provides an excellent curriculum of reading-readiness and social skills that prepares neighborhood children for kindergarten. The school year starts at the end of August. If you would like more information about our programs, please call 510-923-9600 or take a peek at our new website, which will debut in September: www.stmaryscenter. org.
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