By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director, EFry
There are few topics as contentious as the cost of housing in the Lower Mainland. As high home purchase prices keep more people competing for rental stock, rents are becoming unaffordable for many and demand for our shelter spaces is growing with no end in sight. At EFry, we don’t use the word crisis lightly. Make no mistake: we are in crisis.
The aging face of homeless in our communities
For more than 30 years, I have worked with EFry. In that time, we have supported thousands of women facing homelessness. Throughout those decades, the homeless women we usually help are between their twenties and forties, often with mental health and/or addiction issues. What’s really been startling in recent years is who is accessing our shelters now. More and more, it’s families with children and seniors.
We first raised the issue of increasing homelessness for seniors a few years ago and it’s become steadily worse. Many seniors, particularly women on their own, simply can’t afford Greater Vancouver’s housing costs on fixed incomes and so, at a time in their lives when they should be secure in their housing, they find themselves evicted. We have had women in our shelters in their nineties. We’ve had widows who are homeowners but whose late husbands’ pensions died with them and they can no longer afford to stay in their home while it goes through probate.
The seniors in our shelters spent their lives working hard, for themselves and their families. They never expected to find themselves homeless. And they never should have. EFry opens our doors but we only have so many shelter spaces. We are far from the only social service agency experiencing this growing demand for homeless shelter space. This spring, for the first time in memory, we had women we could not find space for anywhere: not with EFry, not at any shelter, anywhere in the Lower Mainland.
There was, quite literally, nowhere for them to go. And that is a crisis.
When the network of shelter providers can’t find one open space in our entire region: it’s a crisis. Forty percent of the women housed through our Housing First program have been seniors. All of them have been homeless half a year or longer. It’s appalling.
What BC needs to do
So where do we go from here? BC needs to invest in social housing for seniors and strategies to help them remain in their homes. Seniors who are homeless or at risk of homelessness must be considered as a distinct group with particular needs. Many have mobility challenges or are at risk of social isolation if affordable housing is in a remote location. They also need support in understanding their options and how to access help before they end up on the street.
Lower Mainland seniors should be able to live out their lives securely in the communities they helped shape. Our province can and must do better.