When the City of Powell River wanted to better understand how it could support its large senior population, it conducted a study, Aging in Powell River, to determine the factors that hindered seniors from aging in place. The 2016 study identified a lack of accessible transportation, unawareness of existing services, and a shortage of housing options, especially accessible, affordable housing among the list of factors. This was an important step, because nearly 28% of Powell River’s 20,070 residents are over 65, ninth in all of Canada for number of residents over 65.
To build on the study, gather more information and devise an action plan, Powell River applied for an Age-friendly Communities Grant, a program funded by the Province and administered by the Union of BC Municipalities. The result was Seniors Together Powell River, a year-long program that included a monthly meeting, healthy lunch and light physical activity. The city also collaborated with Better at Home to provide free transportation for those in need.
“These meetings had three functions,” said Christine Parsons, Health & Fitness Program Coordinator for Powell River. “We engaged with our seniors to learn what they needed. We provided information on a range of topics important to their lives. And, we also provided a space for them to meet and have fun, reducing social isolation in the community.”
Initially, the budget allowed for 50 seniors, however that increased to 70 when reduced transportation costs enabled a larger catering budget. Still, more seniors wanted to attend, and so the City opened the information hour of the meeting to anyone interested.
To bolster their engagement research and find community partners, Powell River hosted two further meetings with businesses and community-based seniors’ services. Representatives from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Tla’amin Health Services attended, as well as two seniors who had attended the engagement meetings.
“These seniors were go-getters,” said Parsons. “They attended most of the meetings and expressed interest in participating. And we believed that the businesses and organizations also needed to hear from the seniors themselves.”
With help from BC Healthy Communities Age-friendly specialists Sarah Ravlic and Celeste Zimmer, these meetings moved from dialogue to action: identifying community champions, planning concrete next steps and creating a rough budget.
“We wanted to know how the City and District could help,” said Parsons. “But we also wanted commitment from them, our partners – what are you prepared to do to help move this forward. It was a positive and exciting moment.”
VCH committed to work with Powell River to compare the City’s home and community care budget, the size of its senior population and the demand for services in relation to other communities in BC with the goal to develop a case for adjusting funding levels. Other VCH commitments include:
- Collaborative development of a business case for a geriatric specialist;
- Review of the ongoing home and community care services, and commitment to work toward the development of a local hospice; and
- Partner with Powell River’s recreation department to deliver Brave Hearts, a program that offers affordable rehabilitation services to people with heart conditions.
Overall, the engagement and stakeholder meetings identified three priority areas, as well as some next steps. The highlights below were taken from the Age Friendly Action Plan Final Report.
- Adjust bylaws to allow for co-housing and multi-generational co-housing, as well as allocate city lands for affordable seniors or multi-generational co-housing.
- Develop and promote accessible and adaptable housing design guidelines, as well as engage with developers to identify what is needed to increase affordable/senior housing.
- Promote available home adjustment grants and the minor home repairs program of Better at Home.
- Community and Health Services
- Work with the Comox Valley Seniors Council and Better at Home to improve medical transportation.
- Develop a plan to request adjusted funding levels for local home and community care services.
- Conduct an accessibility audit of public buildings and put in a grant application.
- Civic Participation
- Create a Seniors Council, linked to the Social Action and Policy Advisory Committee and supported by the social planner.
The creation of a Seniors Council, is seen by many in the community as critical. The Council will advocate, hold the local governments accountable, and ensure senior’s needs are reviewed and represented at relevant committees like the Housing Round table.
The future of Powell River’s Age Friendly programming looks promising, as seniors, local government, non-profit, business, and VCH have all committed to concrete goals and collaboration.