As municipal and provincial leaders signed an extension to the crucial Fair Share agreement Friday, Gail Weber marked an important milestone in the construction of a building that will help alleviate a chronic shortage of housing for seniors in the region.
Renovations on a building that will provide an additional 26 rooms for independent living are on schedule to meet, or possibly beat, the September opening target.
Most of the $620,000 pledged so far comes from Fair Share.
However the chair of the North Peace Seniors Housing Society (NPSHS) said that even after the new rooms open this year, there will still be seniors looking for somewhere to live.
That's because the wait-list for apartments with meal service is already at 44 — nearly double the capacity of the new building.
And for the 100 independent living units that don't provide meal service, that list sits at 136 names and counting.
“We have a higher rate per capita of seniors, people becoming seniors, than any other place in B.C.,” Weber said.
The society currently has room for 100 independent living suites between Apartments Buildings One and Two, and 18 more that offer meal support in Apartment Three.
Weber said that while people used to work in the North and South Peace before retiring down south, more seniors' want to stay closer to their roots.
“More families are settling long term up here instead of being as transient as they once were, and so therefore the seniors are staying where their kids and their grandchildren are,” she said.
Plans are already in the works for a new building.
“We have blueprints for an apartment block to go where the old Elks seniors’ home was,” said Weber. “That is estimated to run at between $14 and $16 million, so we’re going to have to gather around and start gaining a little bit of monetary backing before we can start that project now.”
“It is a huge task,” said Peace River Regional Area B Director Karen Goodings. “It’s not cheap to do that work.”
She also said that there were likely more rural seniors living in care facilities than city residents. “When you get to the point where you’re no longer farming, and you get to the point where you have to turn that farm over, obviously you lose your home, so yes, this becomes an option for them.”
The NPSHS has received support from the PRRD.
In April, two PRRD electoral areas made a hefty contribution towards the renovation of Apartment 4. Goodings and Area C Director Brad Sperling were at the facility to present a cheque of $500,000 to the newest addition to the care home on 108th Avenue.
W.L. Construction is two months into the renovation project.
Goodings said it is vital to maintain funding for projects like this.
“It is critical that we are to retain a portion or as much of the Fair Share as we can,” said Goodings. “Without the assistance it would be much more difficult for them to put these apartments into good use, and they certainly are being well-used.”
Weber also talked about the importance of having a community to connect with. “We have seniors in their own homes who should not be in their own homes. It’s very lonesome to live by yourself 24/7,” she said. “We have a lot of people out there that aren’t eating properly, that aren’t taking care of themselves properly, they need to be here.”
While the society doesn’t provide nursing, each tenant is provided with a medic alert necklace in case of an emergency. “More than that, everybody has neighbors,” added Weber. “It’s internal support as well as external support.”