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Poor seniors and near-seniors a growing trend on the North Shore

Dan Nolan, 60, and Linda Brown, 57, of North Vancouver. - Outlook photos
Dan Nolan, 60, and Linda Brown, 57, of North Vancouver.
— image credit: Outlook photos

More than 1,600 seniors on the North Shore are now living below the poverty line, with three-quarters of those spending more than half their after-tax income on housing.

Add to that a 14-per-cent trend upwards in family violence against seniors nationwide since 2004, and Leya Eguchi, a social worker with the Hollyburn Family Services Society, says seniors and their care providers are dealing with a crisis.

To forestall that crisis from worsening, Eguchi says North Shore municipalities need to increase their supportive housing supply, invest in seniors services and, like Vancouver, establish a rent bank to provide interest-free loans to people in danger of either being evicted or having an essential utility cut off.

“We, in fact, have a unique situation here because the rent is so high, even the seniors that are receiving let’s say $1,200 to $1,400 a month — which is significantly higher than the welfare rate, for example — they are still really struggling because the rent is so high,” Eguchi said in a presentation last week to North Vancouver city council.

At highest risk of homelessness, according to Hollyburn’s latest statistics, are female seniors who live alone.

That’s because many either didn’t work outside the home and thus didn’t earn a pension, or they never married and had kids, leaving them without a caregiver or means of income to fall back on.

With a turn-away rate of more than 70 per cent, Eguchi said Hollyburn provided seniors care to 100 people in 2012. But, surprisingly, the average age of those “seniors” was 62.4 — shy of seniorhood by two and a half years.

Linda Brown, 57, and Dan Nolan, 60, are two of those North Shore near-seniors accessing Hollyburn’s resources because there’s nowhere else to turn.

Before suffering a 2007 workplace injury that left her unable to earn a living, Brown owned her own home near Lions Gate Hospital where she had happily lived for 22 years.

“I’d never even had a landlord before,” Brown told The Outlook.

Too young to claim either a pension or BC Housing’s Shelter Aid For Elderly Residents (SAFER), and with her only means of support an $800 disability cheque, Brown was forced to sell her home. Last week she was lucky enough to get into a social housing pilot program with some help from Hollyburn.

Turning 60 today (Thursday), Nolan quit his job as a journeyman carpenter several years ago to take care of his ailing wife.

“I had to put my whole life on hold and haven’t been getting a cent,” he said.

Now living in a group home, he’s relying on Hollyburn to get him to his 65th birthday, when he can claim some benefits.

Eguchi said needy near-seniors are not a new trend, but are certainly a growing one.

“Many have very sad stories of losing their spouse, divorce, accidents and getting diagnosed with a devastating illness, et cetera, which has left them in this situation,” she said.

tcoyne@northshoreoutlook.com

twitter.com/toddcoyne

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