Older Adults
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Council on Older Persons engaging in social issues during COVID-19

September 22, 2020
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The Council on Older Persons (COOP), an advisory committee of The Center for Community Solutions, held a regular meeting on September 9th. The group, which aims to address the problems and concerns of older adults in Greater Cleveland, discussed a number of topics including state legislation, Cuyahoga County’s upcoming budget and a previous conversation with Representative Stephanie Howse about senior citizen needs for the upcoming holiday season. Later in the meeting, COOP members further learned about social issues that they should be involved in the community thanks to guest speakers Matthew Carle, Michael Billnitzer and Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones.  

Matthew Carle, Director of The Ohio Public Transit Association (OPTA), discussed how he and his fellow advocates are trying to prevent legislators from making changes to public transportation in the state budget. He asked COOP members to explain to their legislators how they use public transit in their lives. If COOP members express how public transportation is essential, then older citizens will continue to have access to transportation. Later, Michael Billnitzer, Executive Director of Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), presented on an interest-free loan program for older adults who need financial assistance due to the pandemic. The program offers funds for Cuyahoga County residents, who are at least 55 years old, to pay for rent, mortgage or other needs. This program is helpful for older adults because according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1.2 million older adults (ages 65 and over) who were working became unemployed between March and April in the United States. COVID-19 has especially caused financial hardship to citizens as Billnitzer urged COOP members to spread the word of their loan program to people who may be in need.

 1.2 million older adults (ages 65 and over) who were working became unemployed between March and April.

COOP members had the opportunity to interact with Councilman Jones, who described a program that the City of Cleveland has implemented. Operation Legend allows federal law enforcement officers to collaborate with the Cleveland Division of Police, to fight crime throughout the city. Jones felt strongly about the need to invest more in combatting the social issues that contribute to crime. This initiative brought up different concerns from COOP members during this conversation. Some members, who remembered the Hough Riots and other tragic events that involved African-Americans residents in July 1966, wondered how they can address young people’s potential fear of police brutality due to Operation Legend. Jones later expressed that the role of older adults should be to show love to young people and to also inform police officers that injustices should not occur. He further explained that this is not a Black versus white issue, but an everyone versus racists issue.

 Operation Legend allows federal law enforcement officers to collaborate with the Cleveland Division of Police, to fight crime throughout the city.

Racism is still alive in today’s society. Older adults, including many COOP members, experienced events throughout their lifetimes, particularly during the Civil Rights Era, that underscore this history. And while there has been progress in some areas, it seems like history continues to repeat itself as racial injustices still exist in access to public transit, financial wellbeing and the role of law enforcement. Most importantly, older adults, especially Black older adults, could become retraumatized due to repeated exposure to racist experiences and systems. In the coming months, COOP will look more deeply into how racism as a public health crisis affects the older adult population in regards to mental health and voter registration.

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