In British Columbia, approximately 75,000 seniors live below the poverty line.
According to Canadian census data (2019), 24 per cent of seniors aged 65 and older live alone, and many are challenged when trying to navigate housing, financial assistance, healthcare, mental health and wellness, and other services. Without access to appropriate housing and supports, seniors are at risk of homelessness, discrimination, and adverse health outcomes.
Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social isolation, food insecurity, financial hardship, and housing displacement among seniors and other vulnerable members of our communities. To respond to these challenges, a coordinated network of housing navigation and support services for seniors is required.
Seniors Services Society of BC is a non-profit organization located in New Westminster, BC, that connects adults aged 60 and older living in B.C. communities to housing navigation services and supports.
As a leader in the sector, Seniors Services Society has successfully partnered with other housing and social service providers across the province to develop several innovative programs in response to the diverse needs of low-income seniors. One such program is the SHINE program (Seniors Housing Information and Navigation Ease).
The SHINE program is jointly funded by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. It is a province-wide initiative designed to facilitate timely access to and navigation of appropriate housing services and supports for seniors. Using a collaborative approach with partner organizations in New Westminster (Seniors Services Society), Vancouver (West End Seniors Network and Brightside Community Homes Foundation), Nanaimo (Nanaimo Family Life Association), Prince George (Prince George Council of Seniors) and Kelowna (Seniors Outreach Services Society), SHINE connects seniors and their caregivers to support services in their region to enhance their ability to achieve and maintain stable housing and to improve their overall health and wellness.
Taking a regional approach to partnership building allows each community agency or housing provider to decide the exact supports or services most relevant to their unique contexts, priorities, population, client base, and goals.
Through partnerships, SHINE has established core services in the following four areas:
1. Seniors Housing Navigators located within each partner organization screen and assess senior clients to identify barriers to accessing or maintaining stable housing and provide advice and assistance navigating housing services that meet the clients’ unique needs.
2. Community Connectors located across the SHINE network aim to reduce isolation and increase social connections for seniors through linkages and referrals to local, community-based programs and education.
3. A Seniors Mental Health & Wellness Provincial Resource online directory available on Seniors Services Society’s website, to increase accessibility of senior-specific housing and mental health and wellness information.
4. Strengthening communities and building collaboration by contributing to research projects and developing new initiatives (e.g., online services and supports in response to the COVID-19 pandemic). Core objectives of SHINE include building a network of service providers addressing seniors’ housing and other service needs in BC and advocating for positive change and capacity-building in the sector.
In a notable recent development, Seniors Services Society is embedding a Housing Navigator and Community Connector within affordable rental housing buildings for low-income seniors in Vancouver and New Westminster. This expansion of SHINE programs and services has been developed in partnership with Brightside Community Homes Foundation and BC Housing. A partnership with the BC Community Response Network (BCCRN) has also been developed in response to elder abuse and neglect.
Over the next 12 months, Seniors Services Society and its partners aim to advance the program and evaluate outcomes to establish an evidence-based, long-term strategy for SHINE.
Video via Seniors Services Society
In a partner survey conducted at the end of 2020, 100 per cent of respondents reported the program is currently meeting all of their expectations and listed collaboration between partners and holistic wrap-around services as key strengths of the initiative.
“This is a much-needed service; we would like to be able to expand services to include other nearby regions,” one respondent states. However, additional funding is required to continue to grow this successful project and establish and develop additional partnerships.
Through an effective, interconnected network of seniors serving organizations across BC, housing information and navigation will become more accessible and available to seniors in the province, contributing to housing stability and aging in place.