ThoroldNews received the following submission from Jeffrey Sinclair, Homelessness Action Plan Advisor, Niagara Region:
Niagara Region Homelessness Services staff worked alongside the Age-friendly Niagara Network to hold two meetings with older adults in February and March 2019 as part of the community consultation work for the five-year review of A Home for All, Niagara’s 10-year housing and homelessness action plan. The consultations were part of the provincially-mandated review of its local action plan that the Niagara Region must conduct at least every five years. Nearly 40 participants attended the two sessions to provide input on how the housing and homelessness needs of older adults in Niagara could be better met in the next five years.
Older adults are a vital population within Niagara. The median age in Niagara was 4.5 years older than the Ontario median age in 2016 and Niagara’s older adult population continues to grow. The older adult population is diverse and includes households with high- or low-income, large or small financial assets and a diverse range of housing needs. Some older adults, such as those who are Indigenous, recent newcomers, persons with a disability or who are living alone tend to have more challenges finding and maintaining affordable housing in Niagara.
The input provided by participants during the two consultations was invaluable and produced five key recommendations:
1. Target communication and information sharing about locally available housing and homelessness services available to older adults. For example, Halton’s Housing Guide for Older Adults was developed jointly by the Region of Halton and the Halton Older Adult Advisory Committee. The Guide provides a breadth of information for older adults, caregivers and service providers about resources on staying housed, new approaches to shared living, alternate housing options, rental units, housing with care services, spotting elder abuse and tips on moving and making a living space safe.
2. Develop an “early warning system” to identify older adults who are at-risk of or are homeless. Older adults facing homelessness do not always become unsheltered or access a homeless shelter but may continue to live in unaffordable housing, struggle to pay their bills or access precarious living situations such as “couch surfing”. An early warning system could identify early signs of risk, such as a decrease or change in how older adults socialize. Food banks and other services accessed by older adults in these situations could be used as pathways to identify those in need and provide outreach.
3. Improve services and supports for older adults to retain their housing or find new housing. Existing supports could be strengthened to increase the connection between housing, homelessness, health care, food security, and other supports with a focus on diverting older adults from homelessness and supporting older adults to age in place with dignity.
4. Advocate for the financial and housing needs of older adults. Older adults on a fixed income such as CPP or OAS may not receive enough money to meet their basic needs including housing.
5. Advocate for a better mix of housing options to meet the needs of older adults. Diversifying the types of housing stock available across Niagara, such as affordable rental units and affordable ownership options, would provide older adults with more opportunities to downsize from larger, more expensive homes requiring greater maintenance. Housing innovations such as intergenerational living and inclusive neighbourhood design could be brought to Niagara.
These recommendations will inform the update to A Home for All, which will be presented to Regional Council and the Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs later this year.
Homelessness Services looks forward to working with the Age-friendly Niagara Network to better meet the needs of older adults over the next five years.