By George Capsis
When nearly 200 graying West Villagers along with just about every local politician shows up—as they did on Sunday, March 13th to protest the closing of a small modestly priced supermarket, there has to be a deeper story. Many of these senior protesters are, I believe, trapped—living in too-small, rent stabilized apartments and surviving mostly on social security as condos and food prices shoot up around them. They are the new “Gentrified Poor.” But to really understand this new poverty, let’s take a look at a real budget of a real individual. He is a 74-year-old senior living for decades in a rent stabilized, five-story walk-up from which “it gets harder and harder to take Whiskers for a walk.” His principal and almost only income is a $927 social security check.
He adds to this $170 in food stamp vouchers, and also eats regularly at one of the several senior centers in the West Village and Chelsea. (Since Fulton Houses has a large Hispanic population, it offers a livelier and tastier cuisine—but, he adds, “As a lifelong vegetarian, my lunch options are limited.”) So here is the total monthly budget for our GP (Gentrified Poor):
$534.03: rent a month
$82 Medicaid self-pay supplement.
$58.25 reduced senior-fare Metro card
$95 Time Warner cable
$92 Verizon cell phone
$31 subscriptions for computer
$20 dog food
$912.28 Total fixed expenditures
If we deduct the $912.28 from the social security check of $ 927 there is only $15 left for medications or anything else. The only wiggle room in this budget seems to be the dog food. This stark, hard arithmetic of a once very well paid creative talent is literally impossible to accept (there has to be a mistake). So im-possible is this new reality that when I asked a women in her seventies with limited mo-bility why she did not apply for food stamps she replied “I don’t want to take money away from people who really need it.” Another desperate couple rents out their living room.
Among that crowd of 200 that gathered and stood for two hours, I suspect many share the secret solidarity of the financially desperate and can—I am sure—match and surpass these stories.
Now what to do about it?
An e-mail arrived immediately after WestView’s publication last month: “I appreciate your passion for the well-being of the people of this neighborhood,” wrote Mark Erson, the pastor of St. John’s Church on Christopher Street—followed by an offer to seek funding for a program that would hire young personal shoppers who could travel to the more remote and cheaper markets like Western Beef and Trader Joe’s to buy groceries and deliver them to our local seniors.
We shared this with D’Agostino President Bob James, and he got so enthusiastic he asked for the budget ($10,000) to see if he could contribute.
Dr. Robert Adelman offered to install blood testing equipment and a booth in which he could provide podiatric services to seniors. Nurse practitioner Joy Pape offered to lecture seniors on proper diet.
Michael Sacramento of Professional Physical Therapy offered free exercise regimens. And then I sent a note to my neighbor Sarah Jessica Parker. She rang the door-bell and swept in, trailing a perfume I had never smelled before. During our discussion, she enthusiastically spouted ideas and names and offered, “You should go on the Brian Lehrer show.”
The last time Sarah Jessica visited 69 Charles was just before the mayoral elections. She was met by my wife Maggie, who was taking out the garbage. Maggie shouted “there is a beautiful young lady who would like to see you. Do you want to see a beautiful young lady?” I answered that I was always interested in seeing a beautiful young lady. The day before this goes to press, they will close the doors on Associated Super-market. The question is—can we use this community newspaper to effectively document and catalog the needs of our gentrified poor and then invite solutions from that same community?
So write about your budget problems, write about the escalating cost of food here in the West Village and write about solutions. If you run a business, work in a profession, or provide a service, let us know how you can help.
And then I will prevail on Sarah Jessica Parker to go with me to the Brian Lehrer or Leonard Lopate show to offer your own personal accounts of gentrified poverty… but more importantly—your solutions.