Elderly Koreans in NY Have Nowhere to Go

Elderly Koreans gathering at McDonald's (Photo via The Korea Times)

Elderly Koreans gathering at McDonald’s (Photo via The Korea Times)

Despite a bright start to the New Year, many Korean senior citizens feel lost and without hope. The number of elderly Korean immigrants has been increasing gradually, yet there are not enough places for the elderly to spend their leisure time. Below is a description of the problem, and a proposed solution.

Current Situation: Six elderly people were thrown out of McDonald’s on Parsons Boulevard in Flushing, Queens, by police officers on January 2. The restaurant was in absolute turmoil with their complaints and other Koreans’ denunciations, and the police left quickly. “We were just dispatched to the site upon a report from McDonald’s,” said the officers.

McDonald’s explained that they could not help but call the police. “There was no space for other customers because they occupied a table for almost 10 hours from 5 a.m. We asked them to leave the restaurant, but they ignored our request.”

The six customers had taken over the seats by repeatedly purchasing one-dollar coffee whenever the manager asked them to leave. The McDonald’s outlet had a signed posted that stated: “No loitering more than 20 minutes.”

A Korean woman in her 50s who witnessed the event condemned the restaurant, saying that it was a heartbreaking moment to see them expelled while they were having a good time.

Although they disappeared from McDonald’s that day, other senior citizens have been coming to the restaurant since then.

Problem: In spite of the bad treatment and humiliation, the reason why the elderly Koreans keep going to McDonald’s is that they don’t have enough places to rest and talk freely. Some older Korean people are unwilling to go to the senior centers in Flushing since they have a sense of isolation in the centers and feel an invisible barrier to entering the centers.

One senior citizen said that it is much better to have a pleasant conversation about the world with friends in a free atmosphere like McDonald’s. “I usually don’t go to a senior center or an association for Korean senior citizens because I feel like I am getting older there,” he said.

Ten thousand elderly Koreans currently reside in New York City. Experts estimate that more than half of them spend their leisure time not at authorized facilities such as the senior centers. Some of them take the bus to casinos while others go to small illegal gambling locations, constituting a serious social problem.

Solution: Experts agree with the idea of expanding suitable facilities for Korean senior citizens. They said it is important not only to offer classes and free meals but also to establish proper places for the Korean elderly to visit.

Gwangseok Kim, the president of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, described his plan to make a café like McDonald’s at KCS for elderly Koreans. “KCS tried to prepare a countermeasure through an urgent meeting after we heard about the McDonald’s case,” he said.

Other experts insist that community groups should provide creative programs for Korean seniors by offering activities and promoting an engaged life.

Another senior interviewed by The Korea Times said that he needs a place where people treat him not as a senior citizen but as an individual, more than he needs free meals. He also mentioned that he wants to build confidence and sense of self so he can still achieve something in the world regardless of his age.


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