Asian seniors terrified to leave homes amidst hate crime spate, study finds

Asian seniors are so terrified amidst spate of hate crimes that they don’t even want to leave their homes, a new study finds.

The rise of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic also brought with it rampant xenophobic hate crimes that have failed to diminish despite the drop in infection rates.

On March 22, the Asian American Federations Seniors Working Group (SWG), a three-decade-old nonprofit that works to empower Asian voices, revealed the findings of a new study. The new survey of 153 Asian seniors and 15 Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) found that 75% of senior Asian New Yorkers are afraid to leave their homes due to the rise in unprovoked anti-Asian attacks. 

“We have never experienced in the 25 years of providing senior services the level of fear and anxiety of our seniors and families in the Asian American community. The continued normalized news reporting of anti-Asian hate attacks reminded our seniors of the unprovoked violent attacks that have perpetrated against members for the last two years – from an 89-year-old being set on fire to rocks thrown at our member and staff, breaking multiple windows at our center,” Don Lee said, Board Chair and Interim CEO of Homecrest Community Services.

These findings come hot on the heels of the arrest of 28-year-old Steven Zajonc, who was cuffed earlier this month for seven assaults on Asian females in one day in Manhattan. It is due to attacks like these the study also found that the elderly population has undergone significant behavioral changes.

Twenty-eight-year-old Steven Zajonc is allegedly responsible for a slew of hate crimes. Photo by Dean Moses

According to the survey, more than one-third of seniors do not have daily contact with family, friends, or neighbors. SWG believes this behavioral change between Asian seniors and CBOs has subsequently affected the interaction between this fast-growing population and the city and state. The SWG also says that Asian seniors cite protection from anti-Asian violence as a top priority. 

Following the survey data, SWG released their own policy recommendations to help support the aged community, including combating anti-Asian violence, providing direct support services for senior centers and food and social services programs, and addressing mental health and social isolation issues.

Safety concerns for the AAPI have also inspired free aid to those who are wary of walking home by themselves, whether that is through self-defense courses held in Chinatown, free self-defense kits distributed by Fire Lieutenant Sarinya Srisakul, and even Safety Walks teams to escort individuals to their work or apartment.    

“Asian American seniors are one of the fastest-growing senior populations in New York City, yet there is shockingly little infrastructure in place to support and protect them especially as our community contends with the devastating ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jo-Ann Yoo said, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation. “Our senior-serving community-based organizations are stretched thin due to underfunding and staff shortages. Asian seniors are left out of government programs and vital mental health services because they lack English language skills. Our community needs help now, and we look towards our city’s leaders to help us continue our work and expand the support Asian seniors deserve.”