The 411 Seniors Centre is pleased to be able to present this brief regarding our priorities for the BC 2022 budget. We believe that an investment in seniors is an investment in the future of BC.
Incorporated in 1977, the 411 Seniors Centre (411) has been dedicated to the well-being of those aged 55 and older. It is a community hub where people meet, socialize, and organize around issues important to seniors. 411 works toward an inclusive community of informed and connected seniors in the Lower Mainland. The Centre provides senior-led programs and services that mobilizes seniors’ diverse strengths, talents, interests and expertise to the benefit of fellow seniors and the community at large.
Prior to the pandemic, 411 ran a very robust information and referral program assisting seniors to access benefits, deal with housing and homeless issues, and to generally navigate the system. We operated a free income tax clinic for low income seniors. Each of these served almost 2000 people a year prior to the pandemic.
411 also ran numerous programs including but not limited to:
- Chair yoga
- Spanish club
- English lessons for seniors
- Dragon boating
- Arts and crafts
- A newsletter
- Computer classes
- Current affairs discussion group
- Seniors issues committee
During the pandemic the Centre continued to operate albeit in a different manner. We:
- Continued with our Information and Referral program
- Operated income tax clinics in both 2020 and 2021
- Ran a friendly callers program
- Provided in-person crisis support services and kept our drop-in program open with careful observation of required health protocols
- Were there to talk to seniors, provide them with information, a friendly ear, and assistance.
Our brief contains nine recommendations:
- Provide sustainable core funding for community-based non-profit seniors’ centres
The pandemic highlighted the need for long term core funding for community based nonprofit senior serving organizations. The 411 Seniors Centre talked to many seniors who were frightened and wanted and needed information. We continued to assist people to obtain their benefits including Pharmacare, SAFER, and Old Age Security. We helped seniors who were homeless, precariously housed, or who had tenancy issues. We supported seniors to apply for the BC Recovery Benefit. And, we provided warm and friendly ear to seniors who were lonely.
The preamble to the BC 2022 Consultation paper includes the following quote from the Honorable Selina Robinson, the Minister of Finance, “We’re looking to a future that leaves no one behind. These consultations are one of the ways we are connecting with people in the coming months to ensure the needs and priorities of British Columbians are reflected in government’s focus as we move forward.” 411 wants to ensure that seniors are not left behind in this budget.
The need for services to seniors has not disappeared as the worst aspects of the pandemic have abated. The Centre is still receiving calls from seniors, some lonely, some frightened, some seeking information and assistance. We are continuing to file income taxes for seniors and we are continuing to operate our Information and referral program.
Recommendation 1: That the 2022 budget contains provisions for sustainable core funding for community based non- profit seniors centres.
- Increase the rent ceiling used to calculate SAFER
The 411 Seniors Centre continues to talk with seniors who are struggling to pay rent. We see many seniors who are paying significantly more than 30% of their income in rent. Many of these seniors are unaware of SAFER (the Shelter Allowance for Elderly Renters).
In addition, we see on a first hand basis the large gap between the allowable rent ceiling under SAFER and the actual rents seniors are paying. We know that this widening gap stretches their finances and means they often have to scrimp on groceries and other necessities of life.
Recommendation 2: That the 2022 BC Budget include a provision to increase the rent ceiling used in the calculation of SAFER to reflect the actual costs of rent in British Columbia.
- Change SAFER rules for seniors in Housing Co-ops
The SAFER application form says that those who live in housing co-ops and are shareholders are excluded from SAFER. This concerns 411. We are building anew facility at 3510 Fraser Street in Vancouver. There will be seniors housing in the floors above our new seniors centre run and operated by the CommunityLand Trust. It will be a housing co-operative. While, the 411 Seniors Centre, has nothing to do with this new housing we have been contacted by a number of our members who want to live there. However, many of them cannot afford the housing charge unless they receive SAFER.
Recommendation 3: That the 2022 budget include a provision which would allow SAFER to apply to those eligible seniors who live in housing co-ops and who are shareholders.
- Assign funds to publicize SAFER for seniors
The Information and Referral volunteers and staff resource people at the 411 Seniors Centre know that many low income seniors do not know about SAFER. They struggle to pay their rent, without being aware of SAFER.
Recommendation 4: That the 2022 budget include some monies to publicize SAFER to eligible seniors.
- Include increases for affordable and subsidized housing for seniors
The staff and volunteers at 411 regularly see seniors who are under housed, precariously housed or homeless. We try to assist them in the best way we can.We help them to fill out forms for BC Housing to get on the waiting list for SeniorsSubsidized Housing, we contact BC Housing with them to enquire about the status of their application, and we work with them to contact seniors subsidized housing providers. Generally, a significant amount of time elapses between a senior applying for and receiving seniors subsidized housing. This time gap directly and negatively impacts a senior’s health and financial well-being.
Recommendation 5: That the 2022 budget includes increases in order to build both affordable housing for seniors and seniors subsidized housing.
- Provide better and less expensive access to public transportation
Several years ago the 411 Seniors Centre asked what type of transportation our members use to access our centre. The vast majority use public transport. They do not have cars. Some of our low income members have access to the $45 per year Bus Pass for Low Income Seniors. They use this pass to travel throughout the city and beyond. But many of our members have incomes that make them ineligible for this bus pass. However, they are still low income.
As of July 1 2021 a monthly senior concession pass costs $57.30 per month. This is a significant expense for many seniors.
Recommendation 6: That the 2022 budget include provisions to provide better and less expensive access to public transportation for seniors.
- Include dental care for seniors in the 2022 budget
Prior to the pandemic, the Information and Referral staff and volunteers at 411 were seeing seniors in dire need of dental care. They came to use for assistance and support as they could not afford the cost of dental care. We could refer them to low cost dental clinics, but many of the seniors we saw, even the discounted cost of these dental clinics was unaffordable.
Recommendation 7: That the 2022 budget include dental health care services for seniors.
- Update the Fair Pharmacare program to allow seniors to access equipment and devices they need
At the Centre we regularly get requests from seniors for assistance in paying for eye glasses, hearing aids, and mobility devices. On occasion we can refer a senior to an optical provider who will give them either free or low cost glasses, but this certainly does not apply to all seniors. We speak to seniors needing hearing aids and we can refer them to organizations such as the WavefrontCentre for Communication Accessibility where they may be able to obtain refurbished hearing aids at a low cost. However, there is often a 5 to 6 month waiting period and this means for this period a senior often will become socially isolated.
When seniors come to use seeking mobility devices we can get them “loaner devices” or try to provide them with walkers, wheelchairs etc. that people have donated to us. This is hit and miss and is not satisfactory.
Recommendation 8: That the 2022 budget contain provisions to allow seniors to access equipment and devices they need, including but not limited to glasses, hearing aid and mobility devices through the Fair Pharmacare program.
- Provide information and services in formats so that everyone can access them, on or off-line
Almost 40% of our members do not have access to email, computers at home or the internet. Prior to the pandemic some seniors accessed the internet at the library and even now a number of our members come to the Centre to use our computers. The fact that information about and applications for many provincial programs and services are increasingly only on line disadvantages many seniors.
411 is aware that some provincial programs can be accessed by phones, but many seniors have limited phone minutes and waiting on hold eats them up.Instituting a call back program/service would address this.
411 in conjunction with the SFU STAR Institute recently published a report “InCommunity Information and Referral Services for Seniors in British Columbia Past Learnings and Learnings since COVID-19” Special Report: “In Community –Information & Referral Services for Seniors in BC” – 411 Seniors Centre SocietyThe Executive summary says the following regarding the digital divide “Recently the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) warned that the impact of the digital divide amid the COVID-19 crisis is “a matter of life and death.” Digital technology can advance opportunities to allow citizens to capitalize on the interconnectedness that digital access powers. However, significant challenges remain unresolved and threaten to replicate and widen inequities. This stratification of access and specifically digital proficiency ultimately amounts to digital discrimination in that it prohibits a citizen’s access to civic engagement and full civic participation in their communities”
The Budget 2022 Consultation preamble states “B.C.’s recovery won’t happen overnight, but by focusing on protecting the services people rely on, creating new opportunities for people and building a more affordable province, we can ensure an economic recovery that doesn’t leave anyone behind.” The 411 Seniors Centre believes it is crucial to address the digital divide in order to ensure that no one is left behind.
Recommendation 9: That the 2022 budget include provisions to ensure that seniors and all people can access government program, services and information in a variety of ways, including those that are digital and non-digital.
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to present our views re Budget 2022. We would like to be given the opportunity to make an in person submission as well.