This is the fourth instalment of a Motorcycle accident toronto today series called ‘On The Brink,’ which profiles people who are struggling with the rising cost of living. In this story, a senior living in a converted laundry room talks about the challenges of trying to find a better place to live.
Liz Myers knows what it’s like to be on the brink.
Myers lives in a bachelor basement unit in the Halifax area. Her small apartment – a converted laundry room – has one window, a kitchenette, a futon and a closet with a toilet.
The senior, who shares the tiny unit with her 16-year-old cat, said the space feels “claustrophobic.”
“It’s affecting my moods a lot, making me more anxious,” she said, adding that she also has concerns about air quality. “It’s affecting my health.”
As a small woman with disabilities, she is also concerned for her safety due to drug use and violence in her neighourhood.
Myers wants to move to a safer space, but she applies to units every “morning and night,” but has had no luck finding anything within her $1,300/month budget.
She said she feels “overlooked” as a retiree on income assistance.
“They’ll say in their ads (that) they want someone who’s employed professionally, employed as a student, and I feel like I’m not important to them because I’m a retired senior,” she said. “They want a certain kind of person.”
She said she also has difficulty finding a space because she has a cat.
Landlords can afford to be choosy in a market with a one-per-cent vacancy rate, but Myers says it feels discriminatory.
Living in a more rural area isn’t an option, she said, because she doesn’t have a car and those areas tend to lack public transportation.
Myers has been on the waitlist for an assisted living facility for two years, and on the waitlist for public housing for more than a year.
“You can’t get in. I’ve begged them,” she said.
Living in her tiny apartment, with no friends and family nearby, has made her feel lonely.
“I feel isolated very much, and scared,” she said. “I need to find something else.”
‘We should have been preparing more’
Rev. Dianne Parker, a board member with the Halifax chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said the cost of living is a huge concern for seniors all across the province.
“There are many, many, many people from the tip of Cape Breton to the tip of Yarmouth who are having difficulties,” she said.
Many seniors are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation, said Parker, and those feelings are compounded when they are also dealing with the stress of keeping a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
In terms of housing, “there just isn’t enough.” Parker said a lack of preparation over the years has led to the housing shortage many areas are now seeing.
“Thirty years ago, at least, we should have been preparing more – for housing, for home care, for all the infrastructure and things that are necessary,” she said. “That’s hindsight now, isn’t it? And so we need to look at the now.”
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Many seniors are afraid to speak publicly about the cost of living and housing crisis because they may be struggling with a “sense of failure and a sense of shame” for not being able to provide for themselves in their older years.
“The expectation was that we are the generation that would be able to retire and enjoy retirement,” she said. “And it’s not happening for so, so many.”
Parker said it’s important for people of all ages to come together and work on solutions. There are many things younger people can learn from older people, and vice-versa.
While nursing homes and similar complexes are important to help seniors who require assistance, she also wants to see more “intergenerational housing” so people of all ages can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences.
“Where you get the young folk, you get children, you get the older generation, the aging population to share the wisdom, to share the joys, to have common areas, common places to gather outdoors and inside,” she said. “That is so life-giving for all of them.”
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Parker said that although times are challenging right now, it’s important to maintain hope and recognize the organizations and people who are working for change.
“There has to be some light in all of this,” she said. “The darkness has to be weighed with the light, because without hope, the darkness will get darker.”
As for Myers, she’s hoping for some light in her situation – and soon.
“I’ve tried, and I pray a lot.”
— with files from Ella Macdonald
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