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October 26, 2011

Homeless Seniors a Growing Trend

Homeless seniors a growing trend
Since 2008, a growing numbers of seniors are entering the shelter system. For many, it is the first time they have been homeless
By Cheryl Chan, The Province 
October 23, 2011

Gusway is a fortunate man, and a rare case, compared to most of Truong’s clients.
He is financially stable because of a decision 35 years ago to start saving money “because the only thing worse than dying young is outliving your money.” He made that possible by deciding, in the depths of his alcoholism and while living on the street, to clean himself up.
He is also a veteran and gets extra benefits from the federal government.
“He’s a very rare case,” said Truong. “He doesn’t have as many barriers as others.”
Many others are in a much worse position.
According to Seniors Vulnerability Report, a new study by the United Way of the Lower Mainland examining how vulnerable seniors are faring, homelessness among them is on the rise.
In 2002, only five per cent of the region’s homeless were 55 and older. By 2008, the figure had grown to 8.5 per cent and for the first time, agencies and shelters were reporting that seniors over 80 were entering the shelter system, said the report.
Senior Services Society executive director Kara-Leigh Jameson said the society used to receive about 15 to 20 of these referrals in Metro Vancouver each month. Now it fields about 25 a month.
“We are seeing more people around that age finding themselves homeless, some for the first time,” said Jameson, noting seniors face increasing costs in rent, property taxes and other living costs, often while stuck on a fixed income.
“When they’re in their 80s, they don’t have a lot of friends still living,” added Jameson.
“If someone never had children or siblings, their social networks are quite reduced, isolating them in the community, leaving them with no one to turn to.”
Truong said some of her clients who are over 80 struggle with mental-health issues such as dementia. Some are victims of elder abuse or financial abuse by family members. Some have been unexpectedly evicted by landlords and made homeless.
Many end up couch-surfing, in hospital or at shelters, which, with their noise, lack of privacy, limited hours and physical barriers, can be overwhelming and taxing to seniors, especially those who are newly homeless.
In 2006, the Seniors Services Society launched a temporary housing program, subletting 14 apartment units to homeless seniors while they looked for permanent housing.
“It preserves their dignity,” said Jameson. “It’s a safe place to go, without the label of a shelter.”
The apartments are always full. The program is set to expand by another 30 units next year with funding from the United Way and B.C. Housing.
Truong said private rentals are still the quickest way to house seniors permanently. Most of her clients qualify for a B.C. Housing subsidy called Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER), which reimburses renters for a portion of the difference between 30 per cent of their income and the amount of their rent.
“That’s a life-changer for a lot of seniors,” she said.
For those who still can’t afford to make ends meet, even with the subsidy, the situation is more dire.
Despite efforts — about 4,300 new units for seniors have been created under B.C. Housing’s subsidized Independent Living program — more than 2,300 seniors are on the agency’s wait list this year, up from 1,946 in 2010.
The fact that there are already long wait lists now is a dire indication of the future, said Scott Graham of the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., a province in which the number of seniors is expected to more than double between 2011 and 2035.
“It’s the canary in the mine,” said Graham, a research analyst who worked on the United Way report.
“We are still some ways out from the big emergence of the grey nation in its entirety, and if we are already seeing at this stage these incremental increases in the homeless population, I think there is cause for concern.”



SOURCE:     The Province
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