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Seniors’ shelter program loses funding

Kara-Leigh Bloch, of the Senior Services Society in New Westminster, checks out one of the apartments is has available as temporary housing for seniors going through crisis. Bloch says the society maintains 20 such apartments around Metro Vancouver but the program is in peril because the United Way is not renewing its contract to provide $300,000 in funding for it. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Kara-Leigh Bloch, of the Senior Services Society in New Westminster, checks out one of the apartments is has available as temporary housing for seniors going through crisis. Bloch says the society maintains 20 such apartments around Metro Vancouver but the program is in peril because the United Way is not renewing its contract to provide $300,000 in funding for it.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

United Way has cut funding to a program that helps seniors in a crisis find a place to live.

It means some of them will be out on the street, according to a local agency that delivered the service.

The United Way funding paid for a temporary shelter program.

The program costs about $300,000 a year, said Kara-Leigh Bloch, executive director of Senior Services Society.

It provides emergency accommodation to seniors who might otherwise be homeless. It began as a pilot project seven years ago with one apartment.

The society now rents 20 units in various BC Housing buildings in Burnaby, New West and other Metro Vancouver communities.

Bloch said the society had hoped to expand to 30 apartments this year. But with their contract with United Way terminated as of March 1, 2015, that won’t happen.

That means seniors with mental health issues, financial hardship or going through a crisis could end up homeless, said Bloch.

“The sad reality is there’s pretty prevalent groups of homeless that are aging every day,” said Bloch.

In fact, there’s such a need, she said, her society had to turn away more than 263 seniors in need of temporary shelter last year.

One senior who did get help was Leo (he asked his last name not be used).

Leo was 83 when a dispute with his wife of 48 years landed him in hospital with burns to his ankle from scalding water.

Afraid to return home and with the hospital needing his bed, he connected with an outreach worker from the Senior Services Society. They found him a temporary apartment in Burnaby.

“I was so frightened,” said Leo.

Having a roof over his head allowed him to recover from his injuries and take steps to rebuild his life. A social worker helped him retrieve his clothes and personal effects, as well as assisted in his search for a permanent home.

“I had a lot of people help me out,” said Leo, who’s now living on his own in an apartment in Richmond. “I was so distressed. Now I’m taking care of myself.”

Bloch said housing a senior in a temporary apartment costs about $20 a day while putting them in a shelter costs $100 a day. Keeping a senior in hospital can cost up to $1,000 a day.

“We know it’s cost effective,” said Bloch, who’s seeking other sources of funding that might be able to keep the program going. “We have a good business and social case.”

The cuts to Bloch’s group is just one of $1.6 million in cuts the United Way has had to make across Metro Vancouver, said the organization’s president and CEO for the Lower Mainland, Michael McKnight.

“When you make a commitment to funding, it’s time-limited,” said McKnight. “It isn’t realistic to continue indefinitely.”

McKnight said the United Way is focusing resources more on programs that help keep seniors active and connected to their communities.

“We just have to determine where we can have the best impact,” said McKnight.

 

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