Poverty Among Toronto’s Elderly should be Top of Mind

The issue of poverty among elderly Toronto residents isn’t being paid enough attention, says the executive director of a seniors’  charity.

Photo by Peter j Mason from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Photo by Peter j Mason

According to Thom Burger, of Silver Circle West Toronto Services for Seniors, a range of problems—from an inability to leave home, to health and financial issues—can combine to negatively affect the well-being of vulnerable older people.

WTSS assists 4,800 elderly people in a swath of the city’s west end. About half of those live alone, Burger said.

In all, according to Statistics Canada, there are more than 354,000 seniors in Toronto. The 2011 census found that 95,205 of them were living alone.

According to population predictions, nearly half a million seniors will be living in Toronto by 2030.

“Poverty in this age group is one of the big unspoken issues, especially in Toronto where rental rates are higher, and housing is more difficult to access,” Burger contends.

“We could be talking more about people who are left alone in their own homes and can’t  afford to maintain them, so they fall into disrepair. Even just basic things like getting the paths cleared, general

maintenance, is a problem. The City will help in some areas, but in others it doesn’t. These can turn into big issues for  people living alone.” A study by the City found that more than 70,000 Toronto seniors qualified as low-income in 2006.

Access to food can also be a problem.  “There are lots of meals on wheels services out there,” Burger said. “[Silver Circle] has one, but these are not free services. You might be looking at $5.50 for a meal, seven times a week. That all adds up. So you might have someone who is just having one meal a day. The whole concept of eating has become an issue.”

Social isolation is another major issue for this segment of the population.

“We see people who are very isolated. There can be compounding causes, loss of family, personal-care issues. Money can be a big  problem. People get stuck inside their own homes, loneliness is a big issue.”

Burger believes the mental health of older people should also be paid more attention.

“What we see is a lot of people degenerating rapidly,” he said. “For example, take a senior who may have had a health issue, has been in hospital and returns home without the right supports in place. There can be rapid deterioration within a few days. It’s a slippery slope if people are not supported.”

While most Toronto seniors live in privately owned properties, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation serves more than 26,000 residents who are 59 years or older.

A spokesperson for Toronto Community Housing said it is aware of the issues seniors face.

“We recognize that some vulnerable residents, including some seniors, need access to  supports to stay healthy and maintain their housing. We do not provide direct supports, but we work to connect residents with community organizations to ensure they have the help they need,” the spokesperson said.

Author:  Jennifer Hough

Published in the Torontoist (www.torontoist.com) in August 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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