Organization says it’s time for politicians to take the lead
St. Luke’s seniors home resident Don S., who only wished to give his first name, spoke to The Telegram recently about the upcoming municipal election and how it will affect seniors like him. He is pictured here at the St. Luke’s garden. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Don S. tends to the garden he helped grow at Saint Luke’s not only because he enjoys the pastime, but because it helps ward off the loneliness that often sets in when seniors reach a certain age.
Living at the long-term-care facility in St. John’s for the past few years, the 78-year-old says governments at every level owe it to seniors to do more to help keep them in their own homes.
“I’ve seen it here. Places like this, the long-term care, they do an excellent job here, top notch. But seniors get lonely,” he says, moving among the flowers and tables filled with vegetable plants in his motorized wheelchair.
“This loneliness is a big issue. It adds to the decline in the health of seniors, and I don’t know what can be done about it, but it has to be community involvement and the will to help them stay in their homes,” said Don S., who asked that his last name not be published.
He said the economic boom the province has been experiencing, brought on by oil production, isn’t helping seniors because they are retired and living on a fixed income.
“So it’s very hard for seniors and people without the necessary funds to get apartments or proper living accommodations even if the towns are doing well economically,” Don S. continued.
Maureen, a widowed senior, is fortunate enough to be able to remain in the home where she raised her children, but she says she wouldn’t be able to do it without financial support from her daughter, who works out of the country.
A stay-at-home mom in the ’50s and ’60s, Maureen says she votes during the elections and is pleased with the services her tax dollars provide. But she says when her property was assessed earlier this year, the increase in taxes was a bit of a shock.
“I think it went up at least $200. I know it’s higher. If it weren’t for help I’d have a hard go of it,” Maureen says.
Ralph Morris, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Sector Pensioners’ Association, says he has been hearing the same concerns for years, and no matter how many seniors’ symposiums or affordable housing forums he attends, nothing changes.
“We haven’t seen absolutely anything come from any of it. The problems still exist — seniors are still homeless, living in poverty and can’t afford to pay monthly bills,” he says bluntly.
“We know there’s problems with seniors, and municipalities are always saying they’re going to deal with the issues, but how, when where and why has become an illusion to me,” said Morris.
Heading into the municipal elections, he says he’s not hearing very much from candidates as to what they are going to do for seniors.
Morris says it’s great for them to identify there are problems, but it’s far greater to offer solutions and he isn’t seeing any of that from them.
He says in order to begin to address seniors’ issues, the country needs to develop a national housing strategy, which begins at home.
“I think municipalities need to be more creative and think outside the box,” Morris suggests.
“I think municipalities are in a position to take the lead and say to the provincial and federal governments, ‘lets work together on the problems with affordable housing and come up with a solution that can help these people live in the dignity they deserve,’” he says.
One idea he says his organization has put forth to municipalities is what they do in some Scandinavian towns.
He says if seniors can afford to pay a portion of their land taxes, what they can’t pay is recorded, and when the house is sold that bill is paid.
“It’s a fantastic idea. Win-win for both — the town gets their money and the person is able to stay and live in their homes. I think it’s something that can be achieved and can be done very easily with some will,” he says.
“We have talked to municipalities about this, and they have said we’ll have a look at it, but having a look at it doesn’t solve the problem,” Morris says.
He says every day his organization hears from more seniors in a desperate state of affairs, and unless politicians start doing something, the cycle of homelessness, pressure on the health-care system and poverty will continue.
The municipal elections will be held Sept. 24.