Booming Need for Senior Centers

Like all social services in California, senior centers are short of funding. They are struggling to maintain their current level of programs and services and on top of that they need to prepare for the huge wave of aging Baby Boomers about to hit senior centers across the state.

According to a report by the Congress of California Seniors released Tuesday to coincide with a legislative hearing on the subject, the state’s senior centers are in disrepair and ill-prepared to deal with the burgeoning number of Californians expected to join the senior ranks in the next decade.

“The demographic shift is so undeniable,” Assembly member Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said. Yamada, chair of the Aging and Long-Term Care Committee oversight hearing Tuesday as well as a Boomer herself, said she’s been seeing the approach of what she calls the “silver tsunami” for years. She vows she and other seniors-to-be will work to get senior centers the infrastructure funding they need to survive and thrive.

“We’re not going to be quiet, that’s for sure, it’s not our nature,” Yamada said. “We will be friendly but formidable.”

They will need to be, according to Gary Passmore of the Congress of California Seniors. His report says that more than 40% of senior centers are in buildings that are more than 30 years old, 40% haven’t had an earthquake retrofit and one-fifth of the state’s centers have major deferred maintenance.

Senior centers’ funding is diminishing, he said, and combined with a need for them to expand to meet the anticipated influx of seniors, that makes an equation that doesn’t add up.

The report outlined four areas that need to be addressed immediately: infrastructure, maintenance, technology use and energy efficiency. Passmore hopes that the state might help with some of those issues, such as the technology and energy needs.

“We know we’re very challenged, as a state,” Passmore said. “But working with the telecommunications industry, which we regulate, or working with energy companies, which we regulate, won’t take tax dollars. It might just take a little prompting.”

When the state does eventually recover financially, he said, “the senior centers represent a wise resource for state investment.”

Other panelists offered ideas for the next wave of senior centers, including one concept called “the center without walls,” which uses phones, computers and other telecommunications devices to help seniors connect.

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