One of the biggest challenges to aging in place on the Coast is our spread-out population.
As Gibsons Coun. Lee Ann Johnson pointed out in our Aug. 15 story, the proximity of St. Mary’s Hospital in Sechelt makes the village a logical place for seniors to locate.
But for many who have called other parts of the Coast home for years, that idea is not appealing. Because of our transportation limitations it means, in many cases, the relocating senior leaves their social life behind.
Until lately there was no option for seniors wanting to downsize in the north end of the peninsula. However, the Pender Harbour Seniors Housing Society has recently announced that Lily Lake Place, a 10-unit apartment building, is in the works.
The complex is intended for independent seniors and will be sold on a life-lease, first come, first served basis. In the life-lease model the occupant buys the right to use the unit as long as they wish. When the owner wishes to vacate the apartment, the society will buy back the lease at the price originally paid for it. The building will include common-use areas, an all-weather patio and garden space.
“The building will be insulated concrete forms, rot proof, water proof, fire proof and sound proof. People will be able to stay within their circle of friends,” said Mike Carson, the society chair.
The Sunshine Coast Credit Union is on board with interim financing until the apartments sell, and Carson is confident the complex will fill an important need.
One of the board members, Ed Hawkins, is no stranger to providing housing on the Coast. He was a founding board member of the Sunshine Coast chapter of Habitat for Humanity. He’s just as confident in this new venture.
“It’s all about momentum,” he said.
As the biggest population centre and home of the Coast’s only hospital, it’s not surprising that Sechelt has the largest number of seniors’ housing units.
There is probably no one more knowledgeable on the needs of seniors or the available housing than advocate Sue Jackel.
Three years ago she did a five-week course on the subject at Eldercollege. It proved popular; 30 people signed up to learn more about seniors’ housing. Jackel wasn’t surprised by the response.
Right now the biggest shortcoming in Jackel’s estimation is a lack of supportive housing, or service housing, on the Sunshine Coast for people not qualifying for rent subsidies.
“What is striking about the Sunshine Coast is that there is no congregate or multi-unit development of service-enriched seniors housing for middle-income or higher-income residents, either rental or strata, despite the high proportions of people aged 75 and up,” Jackel said.
Until 75, most seniors are able to stay in their home with a minimum of help. But after that age many, especially single seniors, need more help to be comfortable.
About 65 per cent of the seniors population have income over $30,000, the cutoff for eligibility for housing subsidies. Those seniors have to make individual arrangements for housing as well as services. They rely on family members, volunteers or private service providers either in their own homes or by moving to a community where such amenities exist, Jackel added.
Local resident Maureen McBeath is well aware of this fact.
“At 66 I’m taking care of my 89-year-old mother … [the Coast] has no private facility like Amica [a higher-end housing company with complexes in other parts of B.C.] Private senior residences have been proposed a number of times but never make it past the drawing boards. We need options here for our older adults, otherwise the young seniors, 65 to 75, will be the primary caregivers to their aging parents. We are retired, but not retired,” McBeath said.
A housing proposal three years ago failed to meet the burden of proof for economic profit, and there have been none since.
For older adults under the $30,000 subsidy ceiling, there is some support in the way of meals at Greencourt, a multi-unit building run by the Sunshine Coast Lions Housing Society. At present, space constraints limit the service to 22 people.
Complex or round-the-clock care is strictly public on the Coast. People needing such care are assessed and approved by Vancouver Coastal Health. At present there are two such facilities in Sechelt, Shorncliffe and Totem lodges, and one, Christenson Village, in Gibsons. While none of these is 100 per cent seniors (people of any age requiring round-the-clock nursing care are housed in the facilities) the bulk of the residents are over 65. And while no information was forthcoming from VCH on these residences there is some evidence that seems to indicate housing shortages in this area.
“A friend of mine who has lived on the Coast for over 15 years … could not find a local facility for her husband who has dementia. The closest bed was [off-Coast] — for a year and a half she took the trip over twice a week to visit him. Only recently was he moved to [the Coast]. She cried when she told me he is now closer and she can see him more often,” McBeath related.
When Coast Reporter spoke to McBeath’s friend she said that in her husband’s case a diagnosis of aggressive Alzheimer’s created housing difficulties for him.
One of the biggest weaknesses in seniors housing appears to be getting information on what is available. At present there is no one-stop information centre for seniors housing on the Coast. Jackel wants that to change.
“It’s devilishly hard to get information. There is no good referral and info source on the Coast. I’m it basically, and that shouldn’t be,” she said.
© Coast Reporter