According to the Burns Lake and area 55 plus housing needs assessment, which has recently become available to the public, the number of local seniors is growing at a rapid pace.
Based on population projections for the region, the number of seniors and near seniors (55 or older) living in Burns Lake and the Lakes District is expected to double by 2036.
The number of seniors and near seniors in the area increased by approximately 240 individuals (15 per cent) between 2011 and 2016, with Electoral Area B (Burns Lake rural) growing at the fastest rate (23 per cent).
In addition to the natural aging of the population, the 2011 census showed that 74 seniors moved to Burns Lake and the Lakes District between 2006 and 2011.
Meanwhile the total number of households in Burns Lake and the Lakes District has remained relatively unchanged between 2011 and 2016.
“The community is aware that there is not enough housing to meet the existing and future needs of this growing demographic,” states the assessment.
The assessment, which was prepared by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia, will now be used to attract developers and non-profit organizations that would consider building new housing in Burns Lake.
The Village of Burns Lake received a $10,500 age-friendly communities grant earlier this year to complete this assessment.
Many seniors living in a “precarious situation”
Earlier this year the Village of Burns Lake initiated a 55 plus housing needs assessment survey. Through the survey, 174 responses were received with participants sharing their observations and insights.
According to feedback received from the community, many local seniors are in a “precarious housing situation.”
“For some seniors, it can become a crisis where one slip, trip or fall can result in their housing situation becoming destabilized,” states the Burns Lake and area 55 plus housing needs assessment, which includes results from the survey.
The loss of a partner is also a significant contributing factor.
“It might be the case that the couple is doing well, but if one partner either passes away or moves into care, the other partner is often unable to continue on their own. The issues can be economic or they can be physical or social.”
In addition, many seniors living in rural areas outside of Burns Lake can become more socially isolated.
The Village of Burns Lake and the Burns Lake Seniors Housing Association have had some success in providing housing for seniors, from independent seniors’ housing (Carroll Cottage) and supportive seniors’ housing (Heritage Manor) to assisted living (Tweedsmuir House).
There is also The Pines, which is the community’s long-term care facility, operated by Northern Health. However, there is a perception among some seniors that moving into The Pines will cause them to lose connection with the community and become isolated.
“It has happened that someone will move into The Pines because it was the only facility available at the time; however, now their needs are not as urgent and therefore they lose their priority for the other housing in the community,” states the assessment.
The Southside Seniors’ Housing Association has also been active in working to respond to the specific needs of seniors living in their community. This includes planning work to support the development of a six to nine unit seniors’ housing development.
The assessment also points out that the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre provides a much needed resource for the community. In addition, the Southside Health and Wellness Centre serves more than 350 individuals each month. The centre also runs a community paramedic program that provides home visits and that can check in on seniors.
Opportunities for action
The Burns Lake and area 55 plus housing needs assessment identifies several opportunities for action to improve the living conditions of local seniors.
These include ensuring that local seniors are aware of the Home Adaptions for Independence (HAFI) program. Under the HAFI program, seniors and people with disabilities are eligible for up to $20,000 in financial assistance to help them to make the necessary modifications to their home.
Opportunities for action also include ensuring that seniors who rent are aware of the assistance that is available through B.C. Housing’s Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program. Through the SAFER program, B.C. Housing makes assistance available to eligible seniors 60 and older. Eligible households receive monthly payments to help make their rents more affordable.
In addition, the assessment suggests exploring opportunities to work with other levels of government to increase the supply of rental housing in Burns Lake.