Seniors need homes, not institutions: professor

Bonnie Belec
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Community gathers for opening of new units in Pleasantville

If there were more affordable housing units in the province for seniors, a lot of them wouldn’t end up in institutional care, says a professor at Memorial University.

Randilyn and Joseph Luedee in their new apartment Wednesday after the official opening of 12 affordable seniors apartments at a complex in Pleasantville in
St. John’s.

According to research Dr. Pat Parfrey has been involved in, each year more than 1,000 people — mostly seniors — look for placements for various types of care through the province’s regional health authorities. It’s about 600 in the eastern region.

Through this single-entry system it is determined where seniors should be placed for the best care, either in personal care homes or nursing homes.

Parfrey said their need is not so much for nursing home admission, but for supervised care in personal- care homes or appropriate supportive housing.

But Parfrey, the John Lewis Paton Distinguished University Professor at Memorial University’s medical school, said there’s a need for both types of care.

“There’s no doubt some people who come to the single-entry system for institutional care, they have no disability. What they really need is appropriate housing with some degree of supervision. That amounts to about five to 10 per cent of the 600 clients,” he said.

“They keep complaining about waiting lists for nursing homes, but the reality of it is the people with more modest disabilities is where the biggest need is and (they) would benefit from appropriate housing. And those with disabilities would probably benefit to be in a personal care home,” said Parfrey, who is also a nephrologist, associate dean for clinical research and research chief of Eastern Health.  

He offered his comments on the issue when contacted by The Telegram regarding the opening Wednesday of 12 new affordable housing units in Pleasantville and the question of how the province is faring on affordable housing for seniors.

While labelled as affordable seniors apartments, two units are fully accessible and have been made available to people of different ages living with disabilities.

The units are on the second floor of the Charter Avenue building, which was developed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) with $2.3 million of funding from the provincial government.

“There is a need for appropriate housing for the elderly and these new units will meet part of that need, but not the full need,” Parfrey said.

“It’s a recognition there’s a need, but only a start.”

Municipal and provincial leaders attending the opening of the units agreed.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, who represents the district of Pleasantville, was beaming with pride at the new units, but said there needs to be more like it not only in St. John’s but around the province.

“We are falling behind,” she said.

“These units, while NLHC put them here, depends on government funding, so ultimately it’s up to government to put enough money into housing so that everybody can be taken care of,” said Michael, the MHA for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

 She said it’s a positive addition to the community, but the government needs to get serious about the wait list and, given the path the province is on, it’s only going to get worse for seniors and lower-income earners.

“We do have a waiting list and it hasn’t gone down, so we just get more added to the list. As people get housing, we get more added on, so unfortunately it’s not changing that much,” Michael said.

But NLHC chairman Len Simms said the list is getting smaller, and Kevin O’Brien, the minister responsible for the corporation, says the province does take affordable housing seriously.

Simms said the waiting list is at 780, down from 1,214 five years ago.

“So our wait list has diminished by 25 per cent, and 16 to 17 per cent is considered seniors. We take seniors at 55. So there is a wait list, but all of whom are living somewhere right now, but would like to be in a place like this,” he said.

Simms said the 12-unit facility isn’t the first for the province.

“Over the last seven years under the affordable housing program we provided funding to private and non-profit organizations to build 1,100 of these around the province that nobody seems to know about for some reason,” Simms said.

O’Brien, also the minister of Advanced Education and Skills, said the government recognizes the challenges it faces and has invested heavily in programs to try to help those who worked most of their lives to provide a future for the province.

“We don’t live in a perfect world. We’d like to eradicate it completely, but it’s never been done in the world, so we strive to do that, absolutely,” he said.

“We have made progress and will continue to invest, but we can only build so many units in a season” he said.

O’Brien said the government has committed $28 million under the affordable housing initiative, and requests for proposals for other projects will soon be sent out.

Bruce Pearce, community development worker on the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, said the 12 units in Pleasantville are part of a larger development with several partners.

He said two acres of land were acquired in 2009 from Canada Lands under the federal homelessness program for $1 even though it was valued at $2 million.

 A committee was put in place and between the province, the City of St. John’s, NLHC and the advisory committee on homelessness a plan was struck.

What came out of it was an idea to develop 12 NLHC units, four owner-occupied Habitat for Humanity units (constructed in 2010), 24 units of city non-profit social housing units and six units for young people with disabilities.

 Each are at various stages of progress, except for the Habitat for Humanity homes and the NLHC units.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, John Lewis Paton Distinguished University Professor, The Telegram Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.She Habitat for Humanity Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness

Geographic location: Pleasantville, Charter Avenue

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