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Senior crime victims lose lifeline in ‘Safe City’ cuts

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After she was robbed of $2,000 about three years ago, Mary Elizabeth King, 72, turned to her senior center in the Pomonok Neighborhood Center in Flushing. The center provided her with counseling and helped her file a claim with the state to recover some of the stolen money.

"I was having flashbacks. I couldn't sleep. That was a lot of money for me. I was so hurt," said King, a Flushing resident. "They were a lot of help to me, the program. I would advise anybody who was robbed to go talk with them."

Unfortunately, despite letters and petitions to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the "Safe Streets Safe City" senior citizen program that King sought out in her time of need is one of the 32 programs for seniors that was eliminated at the end of last year due to cuts to the Department of Aging's budget.

"We tried everything. We had a press conference on the steps of City Hall. We told seniors to call city council members. We sent petitions in, but to no avail," said Jody Showell, the director of the crime victims assistance unit at the Pomonok Neighborhood Center, at 67-09 Kissena Blvd. "Right now there is no word that the program is going to be reinstated."

In addition to providing elderly crime victims with counseling and help filing claims, the Safe Streets Safe City program, which was in existence for about 12 years, also provided victims with emergency money for food and rent as well as a free lock change for their homes. Program coordinators also worked with the 107th, 109th and 111th precincts to host workshops and seminars on crime prevention.

After the Department of Aging's budget cuts, one full-time employee and one part-time employee who worked with the center's crime victims assistance unit were laid off, and the center is preparing itself for further cuts after receiving letters from Gov. George Pataki's office warning that 56 percent of funds for the Neighborhood Preservation Program are scheduled to be eliminated.

Kevin Squires, the Pomonok Neighborhood Center's director of the housing assistance unit, said he thought Pataki's cuts would most likely affect the center's housing program and not the senior center. The center also operates a youth and after-school program.

After threatening in November to close 32 of the city's 340 senior centers, including three in Queens, Bloomberg backed off plans to cut senior centers last week.

To make up for the budget gap without cutting the estimated $2.2 million in Department of Aging funds required to run the senior centers, the mayor plans to seek back rent for city airports from the Port Authority, access Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and seek additional expense cuts from various city agencies.

An 80-year-old Flushing resident who was burglarized in December is happy that she has the senior center at Pomonok Neighborhood Center to go to.

"Usually I go there all day, just not to stay home alone all day," she said. "I have breakfast and lunch there and I do the arts and crafts."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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