New Westminster wants help vulnerable seniors make connections and better prepare them for emergency situations.
Council approved a staff recommendation to submit a grant application under the Age-Friendly Communities grant program, which aims to help Indigenous and local governments to better support older adults so they can age in place and live active, socially engaged and independence lives. The city will apply for $15,000 for the Connect and Prepare pilot project at Ross Tower.
According to a staff report, the city’s community planning section and emergency management office, along with the Seniors Services Society of B.C., want to pilot the Connect and Prepare approach at Ross Tower.
“Ross Tower, which includes 96 units of subsidized housing, services a highly vulnerable population, including a high proportion of frail and live-alone seniors with observed low levels of social connectedness and interaction,” said the report. “Connect and Prepare presents an innovative approach to building community emergency preparedness and resilience by strengthening social connections between neighbours.”
Staff note that the COVID-19 pandemic, last summer’s heat dome and wildfires, and the fall floods have been a “wake-up” call for many B.C. communities.
“The project would introduce innovative strategies to meet climate and emergency management needs for vulnerable seniors in independent living residences,” said the staff report. “Tenants would be guided to develop their skills to build stronger social networks as a foundation of community resilience and take collaborative action to prepare for acute emergencies and chronic stresses, especially related to climate change.”
Coun. Chinu Das said this type of program is important as it addresses social exclusion among seniors, which can lead to loneliness.
“When you get to the point of loneliness, it’s a crippling stage to be,” she said. “You feel helpless and you are not motivated to go and look for that support that takes you out of the loneliness. And this is a place for intervention.”
Das thanked staff for proposing a program that combines the need to address social exclusion and loneliness with work on emergency preparedness.
John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning, said this particular grant is a one-off grant but the city hopes it can use the Connect and Prepare pilot project to get support from other granting programs. He said it’s seen as a much-needed initiative in the city.
“This was with regards to climate emergencies and other events. It is getting seniors to connect together to build social connectedness, and through social connectedness to be better prepared for emergency situations,” he said. “So this will get a coordinator to bring individuals together. This being the Ross Tower, but we are hoping that what gets built in Ross Tower can be built out to other senior’s independent living residences and then hopefully to purpose-built market rental in the community.”
Stark told council the approach being undertaken with the pilot project is “quite innovative” in B.C.
“Only Victoria has used this approach previously. So we will be only the second community,” he said. “We will take it a little bit further, also, with regard to having that coordinator with regards to engagement.”