Lake Houston-area organizations are going the extra mile to stay connected with local seniors and provide assistance during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are reportedly at a higher risk for complications from the virus, with eight out of 10 deaths in the U.S. having been in adults 65 years old and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of this, many senior programming events in the Lake Houston area remain closed to limit risks to one of the most vulnerable populations.

Harris County Precinct 4 officials announced April 30 that they were extending community center closures and program suspension—which includes Encore, the precinct's senior program—through May 31.

The Encore program offers active adults who are 50 or older the opportunity to take trips to historical sites, shopping destinations and dining outings, said Joe Stinebaker, the director of communications for Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle’s office.

“We want to ensure we’re extremely cautious before we take a susceptible group and put them on buses or schedule trips for them,” he said.

In the meantime, the Encore department has been trying to stay connected with its more than 50,000 members and checking in on them while programming is suspended, Stinebaker said. Some of the program’s members have even been sewing face masks for the community.

“These are active folks, and they’re getting together and doing what they can, too,” he said.

Moving forward

The city of Humble also closed its Humble Senior Activity Center in mid-March to limit exposure to the city’s senior population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year population estimates from 2018, 1,861 of Humble’s 15,861 residents, or 11.73%, are over the age of 65.

Humble Civic Center Director Jennifer Wooden, whose department oversees the activity center, said the city tentatively plans to reopen the center June 1. The center typically has 350-400 active members, offering them reading, Spanish and exercise classes as well as movie days and luncheons, Wooden said.

“The manager there, Mari Guevara, has stayed in close contact with the regular members, just checking in on them and making sure they don’t get lonely and checking to see if they have any needs,” Wooden said.

Additionally, the city has kept its senior bus service open during the coronavirus, but it limited the numbers of passengers and destinations. The senior bus service can only have three to four passengers instead of its usual 10, and it is only offering bus rides for doctors’ appointments, pharmacy visits and grocery store runs, Wooden said.

“For some of the seniors, it’s their only means of transportation," she said. "So for those needs that they have, we did not want them to be in despair of not getting those things."

Helping local seniors

While the senior activity center has remained closed, the city of Humble has been partnering with local nonprofits, such as Humble Area Assistance Ministries, to help get food to its members.

Part of what HAAM, an interfaith organization, does is provide programming to help senior citizens and low-income individuals be self-sufficient, gain further education and find jobs, HAAM Executive Director Millie Garrison said. HAAM can also help individuals with food, rent, electricity bills and prescriptions, to name a few.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, phone calls to HAAM have tripled, Garrison said.

“We’re getting lots of phone calls from seniors who are disabled or they have some kind of underlying medical issue,” she said. “So they can’t get out, and they’re scared to get out.”

A Meals on Wheels program operates out of HAAM, delivering meals to 125 homebound individuals in the Lake Houston area, Garrison said. During the coronavirus, HAAM has also stepped up to give food packs to many seniors from the center as well as partnered with Humble ISD to make sure local students and families who are struggling with food insecurity are provided for.

“Our seniors are in that vulnerable age bracket, and so we want to make sure they are feeling safe and not having stress about food insecurity issues,” she said.

HAAM will reopen next week for appointments, when individuals and families can request financial assistance and food, among other services. The organization will also soon host on-site food fairs that are open for the community.