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BC seniors face poverty in ‘dramatic change’ – Global News PiPa News

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BC seniors face poverty in ‘dramatic change’ – Global News

77-year-old Keith Light was returning home in a recreational vehicle outside a Walmart in East Vancouver, having just been released from the hospital after an accident.

He’s glad to be out of the “crazy” emergency room at Vancouver General Hospital where he spent a night earlier this month. But what he really dreams of is the call from BC Housing.

Light spent New Year’s Eve trying to start the engine in his RV – covered in snow from a winter blast – to stay warm while trying to envision better times ahead.

“I was just lying there and I saw BC Housing calling me and saying, ‘We have a place for you,'” said Light, a former construction worker.

The Canadian Press interviewed Light a year ago when his RV was parked outside a Canadian Tire store a few blocks away. But not much has changed since.

He has been on the waiting list of BC Housing for subsidized housing for two years. Each time he contacted the agency, staff asked him to check again in another six months, he said.

Click to play video: 'Social housing waitlists grow in BC'

Social housing waitlists are growing in BC

Light is one of a large population of seniors living in poverty or on the edge in British Columbia, where chronically high housing costs are exacerbating cost-of-living problems across the country.

Government statistics show that people 65 or older in BC are twice as likely as younger people to be classified as having a low income by 2021. But it won’t always be this way. Twenty years ago, it was the opposite.

Rates of low income among BC seniors have nearly doubled since 2001, and are nearly seven times higher than in 1996, according to government statistics.

Light used to have a house on Pender Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, but he sold it and moved to Metro Vancouver.

After paying off the debts he had nothing left so he bought the RV for $19,000 while living on a monthly pension of $1,900.

Adding to his financial woes were parking tickets, each costing $70. Light said he has paid some of it, and is now saving up to pay the rest.

Light said four months ago, trailers full of drug dealers moved into his area, and the police busted them and towed their cars. The city later posted signs prohibiting parking between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Light said he chose the spot because it had free public Wi-Fi from Walmart and he was upset about the new parking rules.

“With all the people in tents and camps and no affordable houses around, the city should fully accept those who have taken the initiative to take care of their housing needs by getting a camper or RV,” he said.

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“We took some pressure off the city, but they didn’t stop their law enforcement officers from giving us tickets.”

Click to play video: 'New seniors advocate named to replace Isobel Mackenzie'

A new advocate for the elderly has been named to replace Isobel Mackenzie

Advocates for BC seniors say rising living costs coupled with stagnant government retirement income are pushing more people into poverty and homelessness.

The monthly old-age pension for people over 75 years old is up to $784.67, while the guaranteed income supplement for a single person is up to $1,065.47, for a total of $22,201.68 a year.

A 66-page report, titled Aging in Precarity: The Emerging Housing Crisis for BC’s Seniors published in late November by United Way British Columbia.

It cites Statistics Canada data showing that more than one in six BC seniors in 2021 will have a low after-tax income, defined as 50 per cent or less of the median adjusted after-tax private income. homes.

That’s a “dramatic change” from three decades ago when seniors had the lowest income rates of any age group, United Way said.

The report says that in 2001, only 8.6 percent of people age 65 or older in BC were in the low-income category, compared to 16 percent of younger adults. But in 2021, the situation is reversed – 15.2 percent of the elderly are in the low-income group, compared to 8.1 percent of the young.

In 1996, only 2.2 percent of the elderly were in the low-income group.

The United Way report also says one in four seniors in BC will have an after-tax income of less than $21,800 by 2020.

Carole Fawcett, a 75-year-old retired counselor and freelance writer from Vernon, BC, is among those on low incomes.

He has $1,800 in monthly income from old age security and the Canada Pension Plan.

He also has lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Fawcett said it was “strange” that he received a lower income than someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage.

He said he would still work if his strength would allow, but his illness would weaken him. He needs extra oxygen while he sleeps and relies on an oxygen tank when he walks his poodle-mix, Finnegan.

Her low income dictates things like dining at a restaurant and the freedom to buy what she wants at the grocery store.

“I have friends and we go out for coffee or muffins everywhere, depending on if we choose places that are not too extravagant,” he said. “I just don’t have much to do because I have a limited pension.”

He can no longer cook as much as he used to because of the rising cost of ingredients and sometimes he has to dip into savings that he says are “diminishing by the minute.”

“It’s absolutely disrespectful how the elderly are treated by the government because we really don’t have enough to live with any dignity or respect,” Fawcett said.

Click to play video: 'Report highlights lack of retirement readiness'

The report highlights the lack of retirement readiness

Laura Kadowaki, program and operations coordinator at United Way BC, said the group’s study was inspired by the many front-line service providers who describe seniors in dire situations.

“One of the troubling things about the situation is that in the past, we’ve really seen that income benefits have always done a good job of keeping seniors out of low-income status, keeping them housed. , and meeting their needs,” said. Kadowaki.

But in recent years, there has been a “very significant shift,” with income benefits failing to keep up with the needs of the elderly.

Seniors interviewed for the report described living without shelter or in unsafe home situations: for example, staying with abusive family members, living in cars or storage lockers, camping in the woods and living without heat or electricity.

Kadowaki said a frontline agency worker told her about half of her clients were so depressed they said they weren’t sure if they wanted to live.

“That’s something that really affected me and it’s something you don’t want to hear … (it) illustrates the impact of this crisis on seniors across BC,” Kadowaki said.

Vancouver resident Sharon Elliott, 75, worked as a server until last October, when she had spinal surgery that prevented her from returning.

He gets a pension of about $1,770 a month, but after expenses for physiotherapy, rent and medicine “there is nothing left for food.”

He said that a pension is not an income to “live on,” but to “die on.”

Elliott started an advocacy group for seniors called the Tin Cup Movement and held a rally outside Vancouver City Hall in September, calling for seniors to receive a “living income” that reflected the cost of living.

The group’s name came from an encounter another senior Elliott said he saw collecting cans from the trash.

“I said, ‘Excuse me, are you a senior living on a guaranteed income supplement?’ He said, yes and I sat down with him and talked to him,” Elliott said.

Elliott said they clicked, both working for employers for more than 25 years but without a pension.

“It could be me,” Elliott said.

Click to play video: 'White Rock tenants living without heat'

The tenants of White Rock live without heat

Back outside the Walmart, Light said he was thinking of borrowing money from his sister to buy a camper, which was lowered by his RV.

A smaller car will make it easier to get around and avoid parking tickets, he hopes.

He said he plans to go back to work, and plans to print business cards advertising his services as a handyman and repairman to drop into mailboxes.

Light said he considers himself lucky to still have a roof over his head, and he feels sorry for the “hundreds and hundreds” of people who have waited longer for the right home than him.

“You just have to have faith and hold on and … just keep going,” he said.

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