The most pressing needs of the city's 100,000 elderly citizens are "housing, health care transportation," as well as "income benefits" according to Richard Artis, executive director of the D.C. Office on Aging.
Citing "limited resources," Artis said that the Office on Aging could use its entire 1978 budget of $2.9 million just to address "one area of services - housing, health care or transportation - but we have to address them all." He estimates that the city's low and moderate-income elderly need 12,000 housing units alone.
The Office on Aging provides social services to citizens throughout the city through several community centers and aid-granting agencies. Its administrative office provides only information and referral.
"What may not be a crisis for you and me may be (one) for an elderly person who realize at 11 p.m. that he hasn't eaten anyhting all day and has no food in the house," Artis said.
He suggests that a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week information and referral service is greatly needed in the District to help the elderly in situations similiar to this. Artis hopes to have such a service set up in about two months.
"We need a mechanism for the elderly to be able to deal with problems," Artis emphasized.
Alice Coner, the coordinator for public information, said that the number of calls the agency receives has more than doubled, to 2,000 monthly, in the past six months. The increase is due to publicity about the office and its purpose, she said.
The Office on Aging was established by District and federal legislation under the Older Americans Act. It is responsible for "coordination, planing and implementation" of social services for the elderly, Artis said. He pointed out that the biggest component of the office is the Nutrition and Supportive Service Program, which provides transportation and hot lunch services to the elderly in the city.
The Office on Aging serves about 3,000 persons a day at 62 sites around the city that not only provide lunches, but also serve as social and recreational centers.
Artis said the nutrition centers around the city are open a minimum of four hours a day. He said he visits centers two or three times a week.
There are 25 granting agencies which provide services including geriatric day care, home health care, visiting nurses for the homebound, transportation and outreach assistance, telephone reassurance, education, arts and crafts, friendly visiting, counseling, legal services and free dental care. The agencies participating in the programs include the Visiting Nurse Association, Change, Inc., United Planning Organization, the Washington Urban League and Catholic Charities.
He explained that different areas of the city have different needs for services.
"Ward Three, where one quarter of the city's elderly live, has a relatively high level of affluence and taxis and houses are readily available," he said. "But in World Eight, there are few cabs and people don't have much money. This creates more isolation for the elderely."
Artis said that there are 15,000 elderly in Wards 7 and 8 and "they are under-served in terms of the number of people and the existing services."
The department plans "a major expansion in areas of the city with the greatest deficiencies," Artis said.
To identify those deficiencies, the D.C. Office on Aging is just completing a "needs assessment" survey of the elderly in D.C. and is holding forums across the city during the next few weeks "to communicate to the public what direction the D.C. Office on Aging is taking and to let the public comment" on its programs, Artis said.
Artis' objective is "to create an effective service delivery to the elderly. There are 277 agencies in D.C. that provide services for the elderly and we can look at them and see what they're doing and fill the gaps and see what needs aren't being met."
"These programs are not a poor people's or welfare programs," Artis emphasized. "We provide access to services for citizens over the age of 60."
Besides the referral service and network of community centers, Coner said that the agency provides "consumer information - information about new services and programs" in its quarterly newsletter, Spotlight on Aging. It is distributd at senior centers, to community groups and libarries and also is sent to individuals who request subscriptions.
When asked what he lists as accomplishments since he took office six months ago, Artis waived comment. Coner answered instead, saying "He's given the office stability and set the stage for direction. He's increased the staff and increased technical assistance to our (25) granting agencies."
Before he was appointed to the director's post by Mayor Walter Washington, Artis was a pertner in a consulting firm that organized services for the aging at the state and local level in eights states and more than 100 cities, Artis said.
The Ofice on Aging is preparing for Senior Citizens Day activities to be held on May 11 at the departmental auditorium. There will be an awards ceremony for seniors who have done work in their communities, as well as a social with dancing and music.
For information or referral, or for a subscription to Spotlight on Aging or details about Senior Citizens Day, telephone the D.C. Office on Aging at 724-5622. The public forums will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the following dates: April 19 - All Souls Church, 16th and Harvard streets NW; April 25 - Columbia Senior Center, 4121 13th St. NW; April 27 - Woodbridge Library, Rhode Island Avenue and 18th Street NW; April 23 - Fort Davis Regional Library, 3700 Alabama Ave. SE; May 2 - Washington Highland Library, Atlantic and South Capitol streets SW; May 3 - New York Avenue Presyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave. NW; May 4 - Chevy Chase Regional Library, Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW; May 5 - Northeast Library, 7th Street and Maryland Avenue NE.