Baltimore City Council members are proposing to create an Office for Aging to better address the needs of Baltimore’s older adults.
During the council’s Monday night meeting, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen and Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton plan to introduce legislation to form the office.
Cohen said elders have often been underserved or seen as being the problems themselves.
“They are not a problem to be solved,” he said. “They’re our caregivers and our educators of wisdom and a bridge to history…. When are we going to stand up as a city and love them the way they love us?”
Among the concerns Cohen has heard from older residents are issues with the conditions of senior housing buildings, struggles with transportation, lack of access to fresh food, issues with physical and mental healthcare, safety and recreation.
“Older adults feel like they have been discarded and left for dead,” he said.
Sarah Matthews, an advocate for older adults, said “there is an overwhelming mental health issue that is brewing in our community,” particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when many elders have been isolated.
Cohen said the proposal to create a designated Office for Aging is not meant to cast the health department’s Division of Aging in a negative light, which he said “does great work.”
But Middleton and Cohen said elders need a standalone office that can advocate for their needs and where they can access services and resources in one place rather than several separate departments across city government.
In May, AARP withdrew support for Baltimore’s Experience Corps programming, which partners older residents with schools “to build intergenerational relationships,” Cohen said.
“It is exactly what we need in this turbulent time,” he said.
Cohen said he was able to persuade AARP to reinstate the program in January 2023.
But he said AARP’s withdrawal would not have happened in the first place had there been a dedicated office for elders.
“Someone in city government, in the mayor’s office, should have seen this coming,” he said.
Matthews said many older residents no longer want to be called “senior citizens” because for some that descriptor can be “burden more than an asset.”
But Councilwoman Phylicia Porter said elders are significant assets to their communities as they are able to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with younger generations.
“I consult them with a lot of things that I do because not only do they have the institutional knowledge but you all have lived his life three and four times over,” she said. “We as young people, we do not want to make the same mistakes that have happened before.”
Porter said the creation of an Office for Aging would be an investment in Baltimore’s future.
“This is not just about resources and advocacy today,” she said. “ This is about the resources and advocacy 10 to 15 years down the line.”