The number of seniors without permanent shelter in Langley, and the rest of Metro Vancouver, has grown at an alarming rate over the past three years.
According to the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, seniors (ages 55-plus) categorized as ‘absolutely homeless’ were counted at 518 across the region, a 244.5 per cent jump from the 2008 count of 212.
(The average age of all homeless people across the region was 43).
Veteran outreach worker Fraser Holland from Starting Point offered another startling statistic.
“Looking at the stats from our office — keeping in mind not all folks coming in to see us are homeless, but all are at-risk of homelessness — from the period of September 2015 to 2016 to September 2016 to 2017, the number of folks coming to Starting Point or connecting with outreach in the community increased 195 per cent, to 1,312 individuals,” Holland said.
“The number of people we are seeing come through the office is crazy.”
Holland cited crisis, elder abuse, financial difficulties, the inability to live independently, coming out of the health or judicial system, mental health issues, “age-triggered changes,” and a breakdown of people’s support networks as “examples of why folks are coming to us.”
To help address the issue, BC Housing and Stepping Stone Community Services Society are proposing to convert the existing 50-room Quality Inn hotel at 6465 201 Street into 49 units of supportive housing for the homeless.
Holland supports using the former hotel to house the homeless.
He says the supportive housing that could be offered through the combination of in-house supports (staffed 24/7), the Intensive Case Management Team (to be housed on-site and operational 24/7), outreach workers and other community partners, “could provide the opportunity for stabilization for individuals followed by supported planning for their future housing aspirations.”
“The goal would be to bring people inside — to house them with the least amount of barriers as possible and to work with them to address areas that have contributed to challenges with housing previously,” Holland said.
“For the folks aged 55-plus who would be living in the building, there is great potential to connect them with services within the community that meet the specific needs that aging may require.”
‘Rough way to live’
Holland says an aging homeless population brings new challenges.
“It’s a rough way to live on the street, so 55 could feel a lot older,” Holland said. “We find we’re running into individuals who are 55 and older who may have been living in vulnerable situations for a long period of time, and now those situations are starting to fall apart where you are seeing older houses being torn down for condos.”
This creates a domino effect.
“We’re also seeing an increase in calls from the health system, where individuals are just no longer able to live on their own and are running into similar problems of squalor and collecting and hoarding, and we’re also seeing infestation, such as bedbugs and cockroaches, where the person doesn’t have the ability to actually deal with it,” Holland said.
“So we’re seeing more and more where people are losing housing or on the verge of losing housing because of that.”
Skyrocketing rental costs and shrinking vacancy rates are also significant factors.
The CMA’s updated Rental Market Report shows that, averaged out, the private apartment vacancy rate in Langley City and Township combined was 1.5 per cent (including 0.7 per cent for one bedroom apartments) in October 2017.
And in October 2017, the cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment when averaging the two Langleys was $975 per month. This increased to $1,340 for a two bedroom condo and $1,752 for a three-bedroom unit.
This makes it extremely difficult for an older person on a fixed pension or on welfare to afford to pay the rent, let alone buy food and pay for utilities.
“When I first started this kind of stuff (outreach work), the bachelor suites were $500, $600 (in Langley),” Holland said.
“Now, you’re looking at a bachelor suite and you’re probably in the $800, $900 range. And that’s your entire (income assistance) cheque. Income assistance will generally say, ‘If all of your money is going to rent, then how are you eating?’ They might not approve that housing because you have no money for anything else, or you’re already stressed to the point where you can’t pay hydro or pay for your phone because everything goes to rent.”
Clients in their 80s
Holland says the oldest person he has worked with who was ‘absolutely’ homeless was an 85-year-old woman in Aldergrove.
The oldest homeless man he has encountered was 82, in Langley.
“The lady was less vulnerable,” Holland said. “She had access to her vehicle, she had extra funds through pensions… she had more pieces at her disposal but still, at 85, she wouldn’t go near a shelter so finding places for her to go was more of a challenge.”
The 82-year-old man was “definitely more vulnerable,” Holland said.
“He wasn’t as capable, had some cognitive issues, would forget things,” Holland said.
“It’s never nice to work with people (who are homeless) who’ve seen so much and done so much. They’re the people who built the country; they’re the ones who contributed all these years and now they’re the ones who are sleeping in their cars or in a shelter bed.”