No hangout for old men: W’burg’s beloved Swinging Sixties Senior Center closing

The city will stop funding Williamsburg’s Swinging Sixties Senior Center, harkening the demise of a gathering place for the bingo set, a popular upstairs day-care center, and a hub for North Brooklyn neighborhood activism since 1974.

The Ainslie Street senior center and the attached Small World day care didn’t make the cut for public money next year after the city adopted a more stringent application process, according to Swinging Sixties director John Pelle, who fears seniors will lose their connection to the outside world once funding runs up in January.

“I think a lot of them will stay at home and be reclusive,” said Pelle. “Or they’ll wander the McDonalds or the grocery store.”

Pelle said the Conselyea Block Association — a group that runs the seniors center and the day care — sent in the requests for funding for both programs just as it had every year since 1974.

But this time, the Department for the Aging and the Administration for Children’s Services rejected both bids, imperiling the programs and the long-time home of Community Board 1 meetings and other Williamsburg civic functions.

Swinging Sixties accommodates between 90 and 110 seniors daily, offering free oatmeal and $1.50-lunches and a safe environment where they can play bingo and pool with their friends, or get help navigating the labyrinthine world of health insurance and social security benefits.

Those services, plus rent, add up to $550,000 per year — all of it coming from the city.

Much of the $920,000-budget at the Small World day-care comes from the city, though parents of the 160-some students who attend pre-school and after-school programming contribute some cash by paying on a sliding scale based on their income.

Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg) managed to secure funding for the day-care through June, but her staff says the city must be more pragmatic when it comes to budgeting for the community’s seniors and kids.

“The city is emphasizing competitiveness and cost-efficiency over community roots and experience working with the elderly and children,” said Reyna spokesman Malcolm Sanborn-Hum.

The Department for the Aging says the Swinging Sixties Senior Center lost out in a legally required bidding competition intended to maintain high-quality content at city-funded programs.

“Like all the proposals submitted, Swinging Sixties’s proposal was reviewed by an independent panel,” said spokeswoman Jeanette Reed. “The result was that the agency did not win an award based on the competition in that district.”

A spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services says the decision to reject the day care’s bid came after the agency evaluated all budget proposals “using an objective set of criteria.”

Williamsburg activists are launching a fight to win the cash back, led by CB1 member Jan Peterson, who spent the late ’60s and early ’70s working to open the seniors center.

“This is the living room of the community,” said Peterson. “This is a vulnerable senior population. They want to save money, but is this cost-effective?”

Sonny Scali — a regular for the past seven years — said he was shocked to hear his favorite hangout will close.

“I feel very depressed,” the 75-year-old said. “This is only two blocks from my house. To go to another center, I’ll have to take a bus or two. My legs don’t keep me up any more.”