As a long-time resident of Santa Monica, I raised my daughters and worked as an educator for close to forty years, retiring as the principal of Olympic High School, the Adult Education Center, and the Off Campus Learning Center of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. I want to voice my concerns about the proposed cut to the City of Santa Monica Human Services Grants Program. While I am glad to see that some funding was returned at the May 5th City Council meeting for after-school programs and mental health support for children, I am especially concerned that we are forgetting critical services to seniors, our city’s most vulnerable residents.
Many of our senior residents do not have family to advocate and support them, and are socially isolated without a voice to speak out on their own behalf. WISE & Healthy Aging has been in our community for fifty years, and is the only multi-service social services agency in the city serving seniors and their caregivers. A loss of $123,000 in funding to WISE & Healthy Aging for services to our Santa Monica seniors would be devastating.
We are in hard economic times, and with the public health crisis, this is not the time to decrease services that contribute so significantly to the health and well-being of a highly at-risk population like the elderly. Specifically, for WISE & Healthy Aging alone, the funding cut would impact six programs: Adult Day Care, Care Management, Nutrition Services, Senior Enrichment/Recreation, Transportation, and Senior Peer Counseling.
At the May 5 City Council meeting, the Council reinstated the funding cut for Meals on Wheels and the Westside Food Bank. Funding reinstatement is needed for seniors served by WISE & Healthy Aging’s lunch program, providing boxed meals to more than three hundred Santa Monica seniors. This funding also assists hundreds of seniors to access public benefits through the work of the social workers at WISE & Healthy Aging, as well as the critical mental health support provided by senior peer counselors.
I know that seniors have been trying to contact the City Council to raise their personal concerns. However, many, who are very low-income and living alone, do not have computers. With our public libraries closed these seniors do not have email access and are unable to send messages. Their attempts to call City Hall on the afternoon of the Council meeting resulted in being put on hold for so long they eventually hung up. As Council Members shelter at home, it’s highly likely that many written letters have not reached them.
At a time when we should be stepping up, or at a minimum keeping valuable resources and services intact, let’s not decrease the ability to provide assistance to the elderly in our community. While they may be isolated and have difficulty being heard, let’s remember that our seniors do vote.
Janie Yuguchi Gates, Ed.D.
Santa Monica Resident
Former Principal, Olympic High School