NYC Asian elderly are not leaving their homes over fears of being attacked, study finds

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  • Community-based organizations focused on helping Asian seniors have reported that many of them are not leaving their homes over fears of being attacked, according to a new study by the Asian American Federation’s Seniors Working Group (SWG).
  • The seniors would not leave their homes even for the most pressing trips, such as buying food or groceries, which could lead to food insecurity and malnutrition.
  • Such home isolation can also lead to mental health challenges, as 30% of Asian seniors already live alone, while 37% have no daily contact with family, friends or neighbors.
  • Based on their findings, the SWG has presented a tailored set of recommendations for the city to implement in support of Asian seniors.

The spike in anti-Asian attacks since the onset of COVID-19 has terrorized elderly Asians in New York City to the point of home isolation, a recent study suggests.

Among major U.S. cities, New York has seen the largest increase (343%) in anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year, jumping from 30 in 2020 to 133 in 2021. Four Asian locals — two of them seniors — have also died as a result of violence in recent months.

The Asian American Federation’s Seniors Working Group (SWG), the first and only Asian senior-focused advocacy coalition in the city, surveyed 153 elderly Asians and 15 community-based organizations (CBOs) in a new study. Using their findings, the group developed a policy agenda that offered recommendations for their target population.

Multiple CBOs reported that as a result of anti-Asian violence, their clients have been afraid to leave their homes, even for critical purposes such as buying food and groceries. This trend is corroborated by a recent Household Pulse Survey (HPS) by the Census Bureau, which found that 37% of Asian American households did not have enough to eat amid the pandemic because they were “afraid to go or didn’t want to go out to buy food.”

“Our seniors have been so traumatized by COVID and anti-Asian prejudice to the point where some are unable to leave their homes to get food. Our survey revealed that food assistance is the second-highest priority for CBOs, due largely to the daily and recurring urgency of our seniors’ basic needs,” SWG said, warning that this pattern could lead to food insecurity and malnutrition.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many of these seniors have no social contact at all. The new study found that approximately 30% live alone, while 37% have no daily contact with family, friends or neighbors.

Many of those who seek help may have another hurdle to overcome. The study said about 68% of seniors need English to be translated into one of 12 languages, but there are concerns about whether the city’s existing language accessibility mechanisms are expansive and effective enough.

Since the onset of COVID-19, there has been growing consensus that attacks against Asian Americans are vastly underreported, mainly due to language barriers, social stigma and lack of trust in the justice system. Estimates indicate that nearly three million Asian Americans have experienced a hate incident since the beginning of 2021, but monitoring websites report a much lower tally.

The study found that more than three-fourths of Asian seniors said protection from anti-Asian violence is important to them. For this reason, SWG listed “protecting seniors from anti-Asian violence” as a topmost policy priority, followed by “promoting access to direct services” and “combating mental health [challenges] and social isolation.”

The study also found that more than 80% of Asian seniors have expressed a desire to return to senior centers. 

“Senior centers, in addition to being a hub for social services and community, are also a source of hope,” SWG said.

“Despite their anxieties about COVID and anti-Asian violence, the vast majority of seniors want to visit them again. Seniors expressed a desire to have leisure and exercise equipment as well as educational classes, at senior centers.”

Read the full policy agenda here. Find out more about the AAF and SWG’s work here.

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