YOU ASKED: What social services are there for seniors who are lonely; for example coffee groups, lunches, opportunities to meet to match with volunteers for friendship. What service is available free for low-income seniors for questions or assistance with things like wills or care agreements? (Editor’s note: reader’s question has been edited due to space constraints).
— Calli and Len Albert
OUR ANSWER: With the release of Tuesday’s census figures, no one should be surprised that seniors’ services are a top issue for Kamloops residents.
Senior citizens now represent 15.6 per cent of the population of Kamloops, a ratio higher than the national average, which is 14.8 per cent. In fact, there are 13,350 Kamloops residents who were 65 or older when they filled out last year’s census.
Chances are very few of our elder citizens are aware of all the resources available to them.
Two good starting points for anyone wanting to learn more about seniors’ services are the Centre for Seniors Information in Northhills Mall (250-554-4145) and the Seniors Outreach Services Society in Desert Gardens (250-828-0600).
Suzan Goguen is executive director of the second one.
“We deal with a lot of issues of poverty, isolation, loneliness, depression,” said Goguen. “That’s quite common and, depending on the scenario, there’s ways to deal with that.”
Seniors who are lonely or troubled can meet with the society’s two counsellors to talk about solutions. They can also sign up for a program called Friendly Visitor.
“We have a whole slew of volunteers of all ages, younger people as well, who we match up with a senior and who will visit and maybe go out for a walk or read a book or whatever they decide they want to do,” said Goguen.
“In some cases, that is the determining factor as to whether or not a senior can continue to live independently in their home. That’s how important (the program) is.”
Seniors who are more active can drop by the activity centres in Desert Gardens and Brock Shopping Centre for coffee, conversation, card games or billiards.
There is also the North Shore Community Centre at 730 Cottonwood Ave. (250-376-4777).
On the question of free legal help, Goguen’s organization — Seniors Outreach Services Society — offers free help preparing wills and other documents. Just call to set up an appointment.
You can also get help filling out government documents and other complicated forms by visiting the Northhills Mall location of the Centre for Seniors Information.
Executive director Brenda Prevost said her organization, which also runs the newly opened Seniors Activity Centre in Brock Shopping Centre, is there to serve seniors from all over the city and region — on every topic, from finances to health.
“We provide services to seniors in a wide variety of areas,” she said.
Both Prevost and Goguen sit on the City of Kamloops’ Seniors Advisory Committee, which is aimed at improving the lives of seniors in the community.
Housing and poverty are probably the two top issues facing seniors these days. There are simply too many elderly residents living on meagre, fixed incomes and paying more than they can afford on rent.
It’s why Goguen’s organization has a staff member assigned solely to housing issues.
“We get a lot of housing requests,” said Goguen.
While her group has worked hard to establish key relationships with apartment owners in the community, Goguen says there isn’t enough affordable housing for seniors.
“There’s never enough, but we are able to place people,” she said.
“And we have a couple of emergency suites if they are really in dire straights, so that buys us a little bit of time to help them find appropriate, safe, low-income housing.”
Some landlords will allow cats or small dogs, but not many, which is a shame when you consider that many single seniors have pets for companionship.
Hopefully that will change as the senior population grows and puts more pressure on the rental industry.
As for other issues facing today’s seniors, whether it’s financial hardship or social isolation, there are people who can help. The first step, though, is asking for that help, which Prevost says many seniors are uncomfortable doing.
“We traditionally see those individuals when they’re getting to the end of their rope,” said Prevost.
“They don’t know what to do anymore; they don’t know where to turn.”