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City struggling to aid frail elderly in Manchester's public housing

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 07. 2011 9:58PM
Resident Esther Moody sits at dinner at the O'Malley Apartments in Manchester last week. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - State budget cuts have forced the closure of dining rooms at two public housing complexes in Manchester, and housing officials say they don't know where money will come from after February to keep three other dining areas open.

The dining rooms at the Pariseau and Burns high rises, both located on the West Side, served their last meal in July, said Dick Dunfey, executive director of the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Dunfey closed the dining rooms after the state zeroed out its appropriation for the Congregate Services program, a federal-state program that provides meals, housekeeping, laundry, grooming and other services to frail public housing residents, he said.

The housing authority received $479,000 from the state to operate the program in the 2011 budget year. Matching dollars came from the federal government and program participants.

Dunfey said he has taken money from another housing program - scholarships for family-housing residents - to keep the program going until February.

'I'm trying to hang on until we can, with hope, get back the state match,' Dunfey said.

The closure affected 35 people at the Burns and Pariseau high rises, Dunfey said. Some are moving to a housing complex where the program remains intact. Some will sign up for other programs that will cost more. Others will just try to tough it out, said Kristine Hall, who manages elderly and adult services at Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

'We have people who are 93 who don't want to move. That's their home,' she said.

The state eliminated the funding because the alternative would be a reduction or elimination of programs for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, said state Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare.

'We felt others would suffer more severely if their funding was cut,' Kurk said.

Dunfey said the West Side high rises bore the impact because their programs were totally funded by the state. But the three remaining programs receive federal funding only if matching dollars are provided.

Those residents - both elderly and disabled - have been told the program may not survive.

'It will be tough for the older people who can't help themselves,' said Esther Moody, 82, in the O'Malley Apartments high rise. O'Malley has 100 apartments, and a maximum of 25 residents can receive congregate services.

Moody, who remains on the program, said she becomes light-headed and dizzy, which prevents her from cooking and doing housework.

Alice Kelley, 96, a World War II veteran, said she has no sense of taste, so it is hard for her to cook.

'You know, when you're a certain age, you can't do things for yourself,' said Kelley, the mother of four grown children.

'People will end up in nursing homes,' said another participant, Sheila Francoeur, 56, an O'Malley resident with a disability. 'A lot of people are going to be hurt.'

Dunfey said the elimination also will end up costing the state more. Some of the people thrown off the program will end up enrolling for services such as Choices for Independence, a state program that costs about $18,000 a year for a recipient, or nursing homes, whose average cost is about $101,000 a year.

The average cost for the Congregate Services program is about $7,300 a year per participant.

'It's far cheaper to make the contribution in the form of a Congregate Services program appropriation,' Dunfey said. Like Manchester, Laconia is trying to hold onto its Congregate Services program; Somersworth ended its program, Dunfey said.

Kurk said he understands Dunfey's point. But he said other organizations may step up to fill the need, or family may come forward and take care of the clients.

If they did migrate to more expensive programs, the Legislature would re-examine its decision, he said.

'Let's talk in two years,' Kurk said, 'and see what happens.'

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