Seniors Outreach Support (SOS) director and seniors advocate Sandi McCreight sent a distress call to Castlegar Council last week as funding for the program is set to run out.
“We should be increasing and improving senior’s services and supports, not battling reduction or elimination of programs,” McCreight said in an impassioned plea to council.
“Each day I look at the pile of folders on my desk waiting for my attention,” said McCreight. “The pile grows daily. The pile far outweighs the 10 hours-per-week of my job. It takes a lot of prioritizing and is an endless battle. In each of these folders is the story of an elder in our community facing a challenge.”
SOS will be losing its main funding source in a couple of weeks. The program was originally established about two years ago with a Columbia Basin Trust social grant. That grant expires on March 31 and the program no longer qualifies for the same type of grant since it is now an established program and the original grant was for starting new programs. Administrators have been searching diligently for a new permanent funding source for months, but so far to no avail.
SOS is a local seniors advocacy program operated through Castlegar & District Community Services (CDCS). It offers direct services to seniors helping to connect them with everything from accessing financial resources and transportation assistance to finding housekeeping help, handyman assistance and providing meaningful social interactions. The program also helps seniors who are being taken advantage of, or who are facing legal issues. Seniors can also receive help with filling out forms and navigating applications for services and other programs.
The program is open to all seniors regardless of income level.
“There are no barriers to service,” said McCreight. “There are no accessibility issues, because if they can’t come to me, then I go to them. There are no issues of cost, because there is no cost.”
She also emphasized that as the senior’s population continues to grow and as seniors continue to live longer that challenges with support services will continue to increase.
SOS asked council to consider helping the program is several ways: to connect with other municipalities to discover any existing solutions, to write letters to the provincial government creating awareness and seeking solutions, to research potential funding only available to municipal governments and to work in a partnership and assist with a short-term solution while the program searches for a permanent solution.
Council seemed willing to help look for a solution.
“My concern is the outreach program, because I know that at the end of the day, if seniors feel abandoned, bad things happen,” said Coun. Deb McIntosh. “I would really like to see how we can — not just as a council, but as a community — come forward to help with this. If our seniors are not being taking care of by the community — there is nobody else.”
Direct donations to CDCS from individuals and businesses in support of the seniors’ program would be a way to keep the program operating until a permanent funding source is found. Several individual donations have come in recently and McCreight reports that those have come from seniors.
The donations that have come in so far are only enough to keep the doors open for a few hours a week for a while longer. CDCS can issue tax deduction receipts for donations to the program.
“If seniors are coming through the door — they are in absolute desperation,” said CDCS executive director Kristein Johnson. “And it is just not OK to cut that service off.”
“I think that it would be incumbent on all of us to put our heads together to strategize with you on how we can come up with some funding for you,” concluded McIntosh. “Because again, at the end of the day, communities are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable.“