For many of Cambridge's 15,000 senior citizens, finding the right help for their varied problems is a time-consuming and disorienting process of referrals and tiring treks across town.
Now, a year-and-a-half after the idea was first proposed by senior citizens and activists, the City Council has asked City Manager Robert W. Healy to work with the Cambridge Council on Aging to plan a city-wide senior citizens' center.
Though Cambridge and other non-profit groups sponsor dozens of programs designed to aid the elderly, the city still lacks a central place where seniors can get information about which programs would best suit their needs. Many, frustrated or intimidated by their confusing searches for aid, choose instead to go without help and fend for themselves.
"There are a lot of people who fall through the cracks," said Crystal H. Mazer, director of the Cambridge Committee of Elders, a private elderly support group.
"Somehow Cambridge has sort of missed the boat as far as having a multi-service senior center," said Virginia R. Kahn, chair of the Council on Aging, a city-sponsored task force.
A planning committee made up of Cambridge senior citizens and representatives of elderly service organizations is scheduled to meet with Healy on February 25, said Kathie Filsinger, who also works for the Council on Aging.
Although they are wary of how state and city budget cuts will affect funding for the center, supporters continue to move forward with the proposal.
Khan and Filsinger said that the planning committee's goal is to establish a "centrally located, multi-service senior center," where all activities for the elderly would be coordinated.
The center will likely house the Council on Aging, the Committee of Elders, and many other elderly service organizations.
Filsinger also said she hopes that a geriatric clinic will be located in the center, which would offer "a continuum of services for people who are frail and ill."
"People won't have to be running all over the place and will have the time they need," said Raulinaitis, who is also a member of the Planning Committee.
And planners hope that the senior center will not only serve as an information bank and health center, but will also be a place where Cambridge seniors can gather to socialize and participate in recreational activity.
Filsinger and Kahn said the complex would place an emphasis on Cambridge's diversity.
Rouleau said she hopes the center will be a place to "meet people from all over the city, not just in the neighborhood."
Mazer said she has doubts about this ideal vision of the city-wide senior center. "How are they going to integrate the people from North Cambridge together with the others will be a curious effort," she said.
Filsinger said she hopes to renovate a space 10 times the size of the North Cambridge senior center, which would be large enough to accommodate most of the senior citizen population. Currently, the city's only senior center is the North Cambridge site.
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