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Program expansion for isolated seniors in Tri-Cities put on hold
A program that provides telephone reassurance, visits, grocery delivery and other supports to isolated seniors was poised to expand just weeks before it lost a major contract worth half of its funding, The Tri-City News has learned.
Community Volunteer Services for Seniors had arranged for grocery store clerks in the Tri-Cities to hand out information cards to attract more clients to the program. But when the PoCo-based agency learned a United Way grant would not be renewed after June, the program was pulled back for fear CVSS wouldn’t be able to serve its ongoing clients, let alone new ones.
Bruce Hansen, president of the Wilson Centre Advisory Association, which oversees the program, said the cards were an attempt to seek out seniors who are living alone and could benefit from contact from local volunteers.
“You’ve got to have human contact,” Hansen said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t reach anybody.”
The United Way has been under fire for not renewing expired contracts to 31 seniors-serving agencies, for a total of $1.65 million in funding. Among those is CVSS and Hansen believes a new program that provides non-medical services to seniors that is funded by the province but operated by the United Way may have usurped his group’s funding.
Better at Home’s mandate is to provide non-medical services, such as transportation and light housekeeping, to seniors who pay fees based on their income. Hansen said he believes CVSS should have received some of the funding because they provide different but still essential reassurance, referral and grocery services to isolated elderly people in the region.
But instead of receiving any funding, his group was unable to secure another United Way contract for $49,500 a year and will have to find other funding sources to keep the 17-year-old program running after June, Hansen said.
But United Way president and CEO Michael McKnight said the decision not to renew program funding for seniors’ agencies such as CVSS was due to a drop in donations of about $1 million last year, not because of Better at Home, which has now expanded to 68 B.C. communities.
“Some of the grants were not renewed. That happens on a regular basis,” McKnight said, noting that 18 of those affected have other sources of funding from the United Way.
“It’s not a statement on the quality of service and the need in the community, it’s about the money to invest here,” McKnight said, adding, “It an impossible task to prioritize people in need.”
Since, 2009, the United Way has seen a continual drop in donations, McNight said.
But according to Hansen, the Better at Home program should be able to fill the gap and he’s upset the United Way still says it’s helping isolated seniors when it’s also ending some of its grants to organizations that serve them.
Last February, CVSS had an opportunity to take the lead in the Better at Home roll out but bowed out, saying it wanted to be a partner instead. Share Family Community Services was given the $100,000 contract to handle the Better at Home program in a vote involving seniors and stakeholders, with SUCCESS offering to take the lead as well.
Now, Hansen said, funding and partnership opportunities have dried up because the Better at Home grant is too small to do what’s needed in the community while CVSS is now also on shaky financial footing.
The problem, he said, comes at a time when the seniors’ population in the Tri-Cities is growing.
“If they change the Better at Home mandate to include service organizations such as ourselves, it’s still not enough money no matter which way you cut it.”
TRI-CITIES' POPULATION AGING
The funding crunch arises as the number of seniors in the population continues to grow, according to the 2001 census.
Between 2006 and 2011, the Tri-Cities’ population increased by 11% but the number of residents 65 years and older increased by 24%; those 75 years and older increased by 20%; seniors 85 and older increased by 13% and people between the ages of 55 and 64 increased by 30%.
(source: 2011 census)