Reaching out to seniors
Eighteen months ago, there were just two staff members working for the Seniors Outreach Society — one full-time and one part-time.
Today, the agency based out of several offices in the Desert Gardens Community Centre has grown to eight staff as it tackles some of the many issues faced by seniors in Kamloops.
Among them is a new emergency housing program that is shining a light on a reality often overlooked by society — seniors at risk of or actually becoming homeless.
Agency executive director Suzanne Goguen said the outreach program, kickstarted by a federal grant earlier this year, aims to keep seniors in their own homes, if that’s what they want, providing supports they might need.
Others might need assistance finding low-income housing that allows seniors to remain independent without draining pensions.
Some, however, don’t have that option and may not have family or friends who can help them, Goguen said, and the program can provide emergency housing through two suites it operates.
“At any given time, we may have 30 clients looking for low-income housing,” she said, “and some we can help quickly and some it takes more time.”
The furnished suites are in a seniors building “so there’s a very supportive community,” she said.
Other needed supports are also provided, either through the agency or by working with other social groups in Kamloops.
“Seniors want to stay in their homes if they can,” Goguen said, “so we try to help with that. A lot of the work is service co-ordination, connecting them with meal services, using our Friendly Visitor program to provide them with some company.”
Volunteers are essential to the work of the society.
The visitor program pairs them with seniors for home visits, while its Snow Angel program has volunteers heading out in the winter, shovels in hand, to clear sidewalks and driveways for seniors.
Volunteers can be any age, depending on the program.
The visitor’s program has young adults up to other seniors involved, while the snow-clearing often sees families heading out to help, the parents using the program to teach their children the value of giving back, Goguen said.
The housing component has become key.
“We don’t set them up for failure,” Goguen said, “but do as much as we can to keep them at home. The important thing is to make sure seniors are in safe accommodation.”
Sometimes it is less expensive to hire a housekeeper than to move to assisted living, she said, while there are other times when just having someone check in is sufficient for seniors to stay in their homes.
Society client-services supervisor Lynn Burrows said her nine months with the agency has shown her the huge need the seniors’ sector has in Kamloops.
Every one of the 3,200 seniors the society sees on average every year is unique in their needs — and that makes every day “crazy. There is no typical day,” Burrows said.
She might follow a home visit with a trip to Royal Inland Hospital to help a senior about to head back home.
That might be followed by a visit with a senior to a bank to reclaim control of their finances, a reminder that seniors can also be victims of abuse — physical, emotional and financial.
The day KTW visited, Burrows said the week had been “crisis after crisis after crisis” and, while that may seem depressing, she said it was good for new staff to see how they were succeeding in addressing each issue.
“We’re not Band-Aiding them,” she said.
“We help seniors to be realistic about what is affordable. We’re always looking at creative ways so they are not set up for failure.”
Abuse is a reality the society deals with on a regular basis.
Often, the abuser is a family member, Burrows said, and much of it involves those who handle the senior’s money.
Staff will do what they have to do to help seniors being abused, be it meeting with the bank, helping seniors change account passwords, explaining what their family member is really doing to them, involving a public trustee — or calling in the police.
“Helping the seniors population, I think that is going to be a growing need a demanding need,” Goguen said.
“But, when we do it, it feels like we’re helping our own grandmothers and grandfathers.”