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Photos: New West walk raises much-needed funds for seniors housing

Province announces $809,000 in funding for New Westminster-based SHINE program for seniors.

“Beyond expectations.”

That’s how Alison Silgardo, chief executive officer of the Seniors Services Society of BC, describes Sunday’s first Walk of Ages fundraiser.

Walk of Ages featured two- and four-kilometre walking routes along New Westminster’s waterfront, with proceeds supporting programs such as housing navigation, outreach, and temporary housing.

Among those taking part in the June 9 fundraiser was New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside, who announced the province would continue funding the Senior Housing Information and Navigation Ease (SHINE) program. The ministry of mental health and addictions will provide SHINE with a $809,000 one-year grant.

Whiteside said she is “very grateful” to the work of the Seniors Services Society.

“The Seniors Services Society has continued to develop and evolve SHINE,” she told the Record Sunday morning. “It provides support to not-for-profits across the province who are supporting seniors who are accessing housing. It is becoming a very critical part of our ability to make sure that we are mitigating the risk of homelessness for seniors. We are concerned about the growing homelessness amongst seniors, and housing insecurity amongst seniors.”

Whiteside said housing insecurity is a challenge, noting that New Westminster has a high percentage of renters – many of whom are seniors.

“What they are doing is extraordinary,” she said of the New West-based non-profit.

Last year, Whiteside visited the Seniors Services Society’s office in downtown New West, where two seniors described how the program had assisted them and prevented them from becoming homeless.

“There are many more stories than we heard last year,” she said. “Even people who come into our office, my staff refer them to Seniors Services Society, and then they are able to find housing for them.”

SHINE facilitates timely access to and navigation of appropriate housing services and supports for seniors, said a news release from the ministry of mental health and addictions.

Silgardo is grateful for funding for the SHINE program, saying it has had a “tremendous impact on seniors. She said the program provides city-specific seniors-centred navigation services.

“The result of that has been felt palpably in the past six months probably the most,” she said. “What do I mean by that? Housing providers that have had seniors been through the SHINE program and navigated through that program, reaching out and saying that that was the perfect client they needed for their building. And now we have buildings coming to us and saying: we have two units, four units coming vacant – do you have a senior? In this housing market, that is tremendous.”

Added Silgardo: “If we can build that momentum, not just for Seniors Services but for our partners around the province, I think we will have made a huge impact on homeless seniors.”

According to Silgardo, SHINE assists, on average, 1,400 seniors a month through the Seniors Services Society and its partners around B.C. SHINE is now offered in 10 cities in the province.

Silgardo said 100 per cent of the SHINE clients in New West have a total annual income of $20,000 to $24,000.

“This is just that group in the 10 per cent that are in between $20,000 and $24,000,” she said. “If you can imagine a senior in their later years, with all the barriers and challenges that one might have with the normal process of living and aging, to live on $24,000 is challenging.”

Funding appreciated

Whiteside said SHINE provides a very important service by helping seniors to access housing, financial assistance, and mental health support

“For many seniors, the pressure of navigating multiple services and programs can be very overwhelming,” she said in a news release. “This program helps alleviates that stress by connecting seniors with the services they need.”

Silgado said SHINE not only helps seniors navigate critical systems like finance and housing and connects them to vital services, but also fosters community connections to combat loneliness and enhance their quality of life. In some cases, it connects seniors to temporary housing and in other situations it helps them find permanent housing.

“In some cases where they need supports to get, say their taxes done, to get their finances in order, to get support, they might be in temporary housing before they go into permanent housing,” she told the Record. “In some cases, the individual seniors have the finances, they just need help with advocacy to find housing.”

In addition to supporting seniors in communities in British Columbia, SHINE is also going international. Seniors’ advocates in the Philippines have connected with the society about launching a program of their own.

Silgardo said 35 per cent of all frontline health-care workers are from the Philippines, and there’s a lot of intersection with seniors and health care.

“We were requested to go and support seniors in the Philippines with understanding their model on the ground and helping them build a similar model,” she said. “We were able to identify a partner there and identify two nodes, one in Manilla and one is the small city outside Tacloban that will try to build a SHINE program for seniors in the Philippines.”

The Seniors Services Society’s goal was to raise $20,000 at the Walk of Ages. While the total hasn’t been tallied, Silgardo was thrilled with the response.

“To be able to get this kind of support is really gratifying,” she said. “And hopefully we will be able to continue to build on it.”

Among those participating in the fundraiser were Langley residents Marg Amyott and Gwyneth Gilliland, who were enjoying the walk along the city’s picturesque waterfront.

“I haven’t been here in years,” Gilliland said. “It’s just a delight.”

Amyott had never been to Westminster Quay before – but plans to return.

“We are just enjoying things and looking around,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”