Seniors are our fastest growing demographic. Over the past 14 years, homelessness among people over 45 has nearly doubled; and what was once only a third of the people we serve at The Calgary Drop-In Centre is now bordering on sixty percent.
Even more startling, the number of people we see between age 56 and 65 has also more than doubled – from roughly eight percent just a few short years ago to over twenty percent today.
This is concerning for a number of reasons. None the least of which are the numerous mental and physical health concerns that come with growing older.
With all of the stress and barriers to wellness they face, we consider a senior any client over 50.
Diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and dental issues are rampant. Addictions and exposure to high-risk lifestyles put many at risk for other serious diseases such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, HIV, and emphysema. Stroke, cancer and chronic pain are also common. And one or a number of these are often coupled with a pre-existing mental illness – not to mention the prevalent risk with any aging population of developing dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
It’s a vicious cycle these men and women face. Health concerns make finding gainful employment significantly more difficult. But even those who are of sound body and mind are fighting an uphill battle. Few employers are willing to take a chance on a person who is rapidly approaching retirement age. Particularly when they’re compared to younger job searchers who can do the work faster, are willing to work longer and are less likely to make use of group benefit plans.
Some clients may qualify for government assistance such as AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), but most won’t. And for those who do, the process of accessing it can be a lengthy and tireless ordeal.
And regardless of how we define senior citizenship, our clients are relegated to the same criteria as anyone else for accessing Old Age Security – 65 for those born before 1958, and 67 for those born after. And while the Canada Pension Plan is available to anyone over 60, payment is reduced if taken before age 65.
Even in the rare few cases where a client qualifies for both, their net monthly pay is hardly enough to cover the costs of rent, utilities and food.
At the Calgary Drop-In Centre, we’re taking a proactive approach to help the growing demographic of aging homeless.
In 2004, we opened our Seniors Program as a quiet place of community and companionship for clients over 50. Up to seventy five people make use of our Seniors Centre every weekday – seventy percent of whom live here full-time. They take part in leisure activities, get help with taxes and accessing government services, work on art projects, and enjoy a much-needed break from the busyness of our second floor cafeteria.
And in 2005 we purchased Bridgeland Manor, a permanent supportive housing facility for homeless seniors. We’ve successfully placed thirty three clients there in the past ten years and already have one scheduled to move in early this year. They have ready access to our Housing With Intensive Supports (HWIS) team, a common area to socialize – and most importantly, rent adjusted on a sliding scale, capped at thirty percent of their total income.
Both programs (and more) will be instrumental to meeting the increased strain on the shelter system as baby boomers age and the focus shifts to proactively meeting the demand for permanent housing, community and better social supports.