Capital Comments: Bettering the Lives of Claremont Seniors

By NH State Senator Bob Odell

One of the true pleasures of being a State Senator is to participate in celebrations of accomplishments by volunteer organizations.  That was certainly true when the Congress of Claremont Senior Citizens (CCSC) celebrated forty years of service and the Earl M. Bourdon Centre was recognized for providing housing and a seniors’ community center for thirty years.

It must have been quite a day back in 1979 when 81 units of housing for seniors was opened.  To have senior housing that was safe, attractive and affordable was a fairly new concept thirty years ago.  Since then, many not-for-profit entities have created similar housing units across the country.  I have been to ribbon cutting ceremonies for new facilities in Alstead and Newport built and owned by Southwestern Community Services in the last couple of years.

America seems to make progress gradually in establishing its social service infrastructure.  Today, we take social security, Medicare and even affordable housing for the elderly for granted.  The battle continues in Washington over what our national health insurance policies will be.  But, there is a long history of gradual change in how we serve the needs of ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Two days before the CCSC and Bourdon Centre celebrations, I went on a tour of the Tenement Museum in New York City.  I was there to visit with my daughter, Dawn, who was in the city for a professional conference and suggested we go to the Tenement Museum.

The museum consists of the first tenement building constructed in what we know as the Lower East Side of Manhattan, for a time, the most densely populated place in the world. The building housed new immigrants coming to the city from Germany starting around the time of our civil war and later people from eastern European countries.  The building had no heat and no water.  There were outhouses for the twenty families living in the building

Not only did the small dark three room apartments provide housing space, they were also the workshops … soon to be called sweatshops … where families and non family employees worked ten to twelve hours a day six days a week sewing and piecing together clothes.  Manufacturers contracted out the work to the families dictating the amount to be paid for each item made.  The working conditions were horrible by any standard but that was the only work available to the new immigrants.

There were some small protests over the working conditions around 1900 and a New York volunteer organization forced manufacturers to sew the first labels onto clothing to show where it was made.  It was the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1909 in which 145 workers, most of them young girls, died.  The nation galvanized around the push for laws to require better working conditions in the garment business.

Improvements in working conditions, attempts to provide financial and health care security and affordable housing for seniors is all part of America’s attempt to provide a better life for our citizens.  It was a pleasure to join with other public officials to offer my congratulations to all those who participate in the CCSC and support the Bourdon Centre.  They certainly have provided opportunities for better lives for Claremont seniors.  Special thanks to Lou Gendron for his extraordinary leadership with both organizations for so many years.

*   *   *

As I was leaving the Bourdon Centre celebrations, a friend and resident there told me “let them have a casino if they want it.”  I asked if she wanted a casino in Claremont and she told me no and said she was talking about a casino in Berlin.  She wanted me to know “she was one senior who favored more gambling.”

People frequently express their thoughts to me on expanded gambling.  I wish I could respond with a quick yes or no response.  But it is more complicated than that.

For years, the legislature has been dealing with essentially one approach to expanded gambling.  That proposal would give the state’s three racetracks and possibly one or two grand hotels in the north country the opportunity to install slot machines sharing some of the profits with the state.  The Senate has passed such a bill but the proposal always faces strong opposition in the House.

I am one of fifteen members of the Governor’s Commission on Gaming.  The commission heard a fascinating presentation from Michael Brown.  He is the former manager of Foxwoods and has been a consultant to many gambling enterprises.

He offered some ideas on how gambling might be expanded in New Hampshire if the state wanted to go beyond the charity gambling, bingo, Luck 7’s, lottery and horse racing we now have.  Mr. Brown suggested New Hampshire create a government entity to oversee the new gaming operations;  not preselect who will operate the new facilities, let interested parties bid for the opportunity; create a casino with a full range of gambling and not limit it to slot machines only; not locate the facility in an urban area as that encourages too much gambling at times like lunch breaks for workers in the area; put it near an interstate.

Mr. Brown’s presentation gave the commission a check list of decisions it will have to make in order to offer recommendations to the Governor in an interim report in December and a final report next June.

NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.


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