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Living 60 : Cost of living driving poor seniors to homelessness

More older Langley residents on fixed incomes are at risk of losing their housing
Fraser Holland has spent years working with people at risk of homelessness in Langley, including seniors. (Langley Advance Times files)

The spiraling cost of rent, food, and other basic necessities is putting the squeeze on many seniors around Langley, and it’s putting some of them out of their homes.

In the last week of September, Wendy Rachwalski, manager of community services at Langley Seniors Resource Society, had a man come into the organization’s centre and tell her he’d just become homeless.

It’s becoming a more and more common story.

Seniors are living in cars or containers, Rachwalski said.

The main culprit is the high cost of rent, combined with evictions as older buildings are torn down to make way for new ones.

The poverty rate among seniors in Langley City is 19.1 per cent, compared to 14.3 per cent in Greater Vancouver.

“The struggle is huge right now,” Rachwalski said.

Many of those seniors are living in older buildings, where the rent is low because annual increases have been capped for years by the provincial government.

“They’re paying $700 a month where they are,” Rachwalski said.

Then their place is torn down, and they can’t find anything for less than double or triple that.

For seniors whose total income is around $1,800 to $1,900 a month, that’s simply not affordable.

“What we’re seeing is, people are giving up food,” to afford rent, Rachwalski said.

They’re turning to local food banks and other charitable programs, including ones run by the Langley Seniors Resource Society.

Fraser Holland, program manager for the Langley Community Services Society, has worked with homeless and vulnerable people in a number of roles in Langley for years.

He agrees that a lack of housing and a lack of income is putting a special squeeze on seniors.

When rents go up for working-age people, they often have to bring in more income.

That can mean looking for a better job, or getting a second job.

But for seniors who are elderly or disabled, getting a part-time or full-time job may be almost impossible. If physical labour is not possible, there are a host of jobs they simply can’t take. Many older seniors also lack up-to-date computer skills that many jobs require.

Holland used to see a lot of clients in the small cottage-style houses that dotted Langley City, but those houses are being redeveloped at a rapid clip.

“Those places are gone, and in their place are condos,” said Holland. The former cottage residents can’t afford the rent or purchase price of the new buildings.

Another way seniors can find themselves in housing difficulty is through a hospital stay. It’s not uncommon for a poor senior to go into hospital, sometimes for an extended period of time, and to return home discovering that they have lost their tenancy.

Rachwalski said one thing the Langley Seniors Resource Society can do for people is to at least ensure that they are getting the government funding seniors are eligible for.

Seniors may be eligible for Canada Pension PLan, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplment, and in some cases for Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER).

“We work with them just to make sure they have all of the funds they’re entitled to,” said Rachwalski.

The centre is also offering frozen meal packages, via coupons available at the centre. It’s part of a partnership with the United Way.

For seniors who have given up buying groceries because all their money is going to rent, resources like that are the only way they can eat.

Another issue Rachwalski sees – many seniors in dire financial straits simply don’t want to speak up publicly about it.

“In Langley, we need more support for seniors,” she said.

Rachwalski is currently working on a report to local MLAs about the situation and some possible solutions.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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