Syracuse to close Ida Benderson Senior Center - where will elderly go?

The Ida Benderson senior center / photo: Jim Kenyon

After 36 years, a popular city-run senior center in downtown Syracuse will be closing its doors.

Citing a lack of funding, the Miner administration told staff and clients of the Ida Benderson Senior Center that the facility will close within the next few months. The dozens of seniors who attend the center daily are being urged to go to the Salvation Army senior center at 749 South Warren Street. "It's not being shut down, it's being moved." said Mayor Stephanie Miner. Miner said it was important that the city continue to provide the services available at the Ida Benderson Center through the Salvation Army.

The Ida Benderson Center, one of four senior centers run by the city, will close because the city reportedly can no longer afford to provide medical and other services for up to 80 seniors who visit each day. The city also can not justify paying the annual rent for the center at 205 South Salina Street. Miner pointed out to CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that the federal funding for the center through the Community Development Block Grant Program had been cut 22 percent over the past 4 years.

The 2 year contract with the Salvation Army will cost the city $60-thousand a year. That contract must be approved by the Syracuse Common Council. Miner says she may have a tough time convincing councilors to go along with the changes, but she says the city has to deal with the reality of tight finances.

Seniors who talked with Kenyon are upset with the decision. Thelma Masker of Syracuse says she's been coming to Ida Benderson for 11 years. She says they're all family at the center who need to come there for the companionship and services.

When asked if the center had become a "drain on taxpayers", Jeffel Mike pointed out that the seniors were all taxpayers when they were younger.

87 year old Irving Friedman says he's been a client at the Ida Benderson Center for the past 13 years. Friedman thinks it's not about money, but at attempt to rid downtown Syracuse of a senior center to make way for the redevelopment of Salina Street.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is preparing to provide nutritional and social services to those who would be displaced by the closing. Executive Director of Community Services for the Salvation Army, Linda Wright told Kenyon the organization has been working with City Hall for months to ensure an orderly transition. "This is not a knee jerk reaction to a closing." she said. Wright says once the move is complete, the Salvation Army intends to rename its Senior Center after Ida Benderson, the community leader and philanthropist for whom the center was originally named.

Former Mayor Lee Alexander opened the doors to the Ida Benderson Senior Center in 1975. It has since evolved into a gathering place for the elderly where they can receive a hot meal, partake in recreational activities, as well as receive medical and other social services. It has also become a favorite stop for politicians running for office.

The center is also used by the city as a cooling place during the hottest summer days. In fact, this past July 22 the center had to be closed because of a water main break nearby.

The attached clip is a promotional video for the Ida Benderson Center produced by Syracuse University student Mehvish Haroon under the "Secs in the City" project.

Do you feel Mayor Stephanie Miner is justified in closing the center? Or is there another alternative to turning away dozens of senior citizens? Leave a comment below and give us your opinion.