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'We can not continue to just warehouse our seniors in shelters': Growing homeless crisis sees more seniors with nowhere to live

Abbotsford, B.C. -

Joseph Doran never imagined he’d retire from a lifetime of working and – at 86 years old – end up in a homeless shelter.

“It’s not very good,” he said.

But after facing medical issues and being hospitalized, he found himself homeless in Hope, B.C.

He’s not alone.

“There are more older adults who are homeless right now in Abbotsford and across our province than ever before,” said Jesse Wegenast of Sparrow Community Care Society.

The society operates a one-of-a-kind shelter in B.C. specifically for older adults.

“For a place like this to exist, I know, has been a major relief … for people who are in incredibly treacherous waters for the first time in their lives,” Wegenast said.

“We are full every night. We are turning people away every day,” he explained of the 20-bed, provincially funded shelter.

“Many of our guests are pensioners. Many of our guests are in their 70s and 80s,” said Wegenast.

The shelter is in Central Heights Church in Abbotsford and is a converted all-purpose room.

Tiina-Mai Sastok, 67, who said she is a former teacher and counsellor, has been at the shelter for about 15 months.

“When I first came here, there were no pods. It was wide open, and I was just petrified,” she said.

Now, the shelter has 1.5-metre-high temporary walls that offer a little more privacy for residents.

Brent Taylor has been at the shelter almost two years after he says a workplace accident led to a series of difficulties.

“Never been on social assistance before, so it’s all brand new,” said Taylor, who also has never lived in a shelter before.

“Literally living a different life than I’m accustomed to,” he said. “It’s a bit of a soft landing here because other shelters, I’ve heard there’s a lot of crime.”

Taylor also said he’s grateful he’s in a shelter tailored to older adults.

Patrick Gallagher, who still works part-time, says he ended up here after his marriage ended.

“I lived in my car six, seven months and then came here,” he said, adding that he’s not sure how he will ever afford his own place.

“The rents are really high. It’s hard to find places,” he said, explaining that he’s grateful to have a roof over his head.

Wegenast said the shelter is often used by fixed-income seniors who, perhaps, lose a spouse and need to move, then find themselves priced out of the housing and rental market.

“We are going to continue to see older adults falling into homelessness as long as we fail to address the housing crisis,” he said. “We can not shelter our way out of a housing crisis any more than we can naloxone our way out of an overdose crisis … We can not continue to just warehouse our seniors in shelters, which I fear is part of what’s happening."

Meanwhile, Doran said he still dreams of owning his own place.

“Once I get out of here, I plan to buy a little shack somehow,” he said.

But having lived in the shelter more than a year, that dream may be slipping farther away. Top Stories


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