“He hugged me and said, ‘you saved my life.’”
John lives in South Surrey. Now in his late sixties, John has aged out of the disability payments he used to receive, and has been living without heat, plumbing or power in a trailer in a backyard. His rent for this space costs him more than two-thirds of his federal benefits, leaving only a few hundred dollars each month for food and other necessities.
As an older adult living in poverty, John is not alone. The number of seniors living in poverty in BC has doubled since 2000 to nearly nine percent. It’s something that Sahra-Lea Tosdevine-Tataryn, Age Friendly Strategy for Seniors Project Manager with the City of Surrey, has noticed in her daily work.
Surrey knew that they had to act.
“It’s difficult to watch people that are in that time of life where they should be enjoying the rest of their life struggle harder,” says Taya Vantol, Community Care Coordinator with Seniors Come Share Society, and organization that works across Surrey and White Rock build safe, inclusive, and nurturing communities for older adults. After conversations with Seniors Come Share, Surrey decided to partner with the non-profit to do an Age-Friendly Community project that would centre around mobile community care. The approach allowed them to go directly to the seniors that needed them most, and it formed a good complement to housing interventions that the city and the province had already started.
The first phase of the project focused on getting homeless and marginally-housed older adults the supports they needed to find a home by hosting ID Clinics, where Vantol could assist with forms, provide resources and referrals, and help people replace their lost or missing identification cards.
Since beginning these clinics in June, Vantol says they’ve seen considerable interest from older adults looking for support.
“We’ve seen 70 or more individuals, and we still have more than 43 ongoing files where we’re applied for a piece of ID, or need to do more research to help people with more difficult pieces of ID,” says Vantol. Though the number may seem small in the context of a city with a population of 500,000, the number is considerable when understood in context: due to the work involved, initial appointments can take hours, and multiple follow-up appointments can be required.
For older adults like John, replacing a lost piece of ID can have life-changing implications. In John’s situation, during his appointment to replace his ID, he discovered that he was now eligible for Guaranteed Income Supplement—a source of funding he was previously unaware of.
Vantol says John’s story is not unique—for many older adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, things like a missing ID, a lack of knowledge of the services available, or even an intellectual disability can be factors that impact their ability to access housing or care.
“There’s a lot of this out there,” says Vantol, “And you can see that one piece of ID needed takes that conversation into all these other places where you can support the senior, from a piece of ID all the way to getting them a new housing situation or getting them 24/7 care. So the ID is just a springboard into the rest of it.”
After receiving assistance with his Guaranteed Income Supplement application, John now receives nearly double the amount of financial support he once did, though the payments still put him well below the poverty line, and he’s still struggling to find housing.
“[Still,] he feels like he’s rich now.” says Vantol, “He hugged me and said, ‘you saved my life.’ So just that three hours with him made him feel like a person again and put him back in the community.”
Sahra-Lea Tosdevine-Tataryn and Taya Vantol’s recommendations for communities looking to take on a similar project:
- Make sure that it’s sustainable. Impact for these type of projects can take time, as can momentum-building. If the program isn’t sustainable, you could be closing the doors just as you start to get results or interest.
- Collaborate with your community. This is the best way to ensure your project is needed, that you have the right parties at the planning table, and that your plan will work.
- Know your capacity. Do your research beforehand to know what is—and isn’t—within your scope. For example, in Surrey’s project, they discovered that obtaining replacement documents from other countries was extremely difficult and time-consuming.
- Ensure you have your key stakeholders in place to make the plan work. For Surrey’s project, they have found it a challenge to bring a professional on board who can certify copies of documents.
- Build a core volunteer base from the get-go. By their nature, these types of projects always require a strong volunteer contingent in order to work.