Pembroke-- Concerns about a lack of housing for seniors and the needs of the homeless population have Renfrew County council looking at options for developing a strategy looking at new housing opportunities and solutions.
The wait list for County of Renfrew housing units continues to be substantial with 964 applicants representing seniors, adults and families. As well, since the COVID-19 pandemic began 153 homeless people in the county, where the population is slightly over 100,000, have been provided with some form of assistance.
“Right now, 33 of them are in hotels across our county,” Warden Debbie Robinson noted at Renfrew County council last Wednesday. “These aren’t numbers. These are people.
“Are these invisible victims of the pandemic we haven’t identified yet or are we seeing the growth in a housing crisis?” she questioned.
Her comments came following a presentation on a Seniors Housing Strategy presented by Ken Foulds and Scott Robertson of Re/fact Consulting. They had been hired by the county last year to do a study.
“The real intent was to address senior housing and needs,” Mr. Foulds said.
The consultants were looking at solutions including “outside brick-and-mortar opportunities” in the report, he said. The concern about housing for seniors is great in the county. He pointed out 20 per cent of the population is seniors.
“Over the next 20 years that segment will grow to 30 per cent,” he added.
All seniors are not alike and this was reflected in the presentation. He said while some are independent, others are moderately independent and the final group is heavily reliant on assistance. While the independent senior needs community supports, later it becomes more community care and finally long-term care.
Mr. Roberts said the consultants did a questionnaire, had focus groups and a community round table among other initiatives to come to their findings. He said there were several findings including the fact seniors have a desire to maintain independence.
“There is a lack of appropriate housing,” he added, as well as pointing out there is a demand for both housing and long-term care needs.
Another area of concern is expanding services to rural areas and affordability for seniors is an issue.
Five strategy directions were presented. The first was expanding suitable housing options.
“Pursue greater housing flexibility with local municipalities in the Official Plan,” Mr. Foulds said.
Zoning and approval practices can help in this, he said. As well, the county has a 10-year housing and homelessness plan and this can be built upon.
The second strategy was improving support to enable seniors to age in place appropriately.
“Maximize programs that exist out there,” he said.
Expanding paramedicine initiatives would be a positive move.
“One third of those on the wait list for long-term care are not considered in the severe category and could be helped to age in place,” he said.
The third strategy was to increase the supply of higher-level care facilities. He said expanding care campus type options and creating slack for respite care are options as well.
The fourth strategy was creating the right environment to identify and facilitate housing options.
“The county can be a catalyst for development,” he said. “Continue to engage the private sector to get them involved.”
The final strategy was improving seniors’ access to care and support. Mr. Foulds said having a community round table and facilitating information sharing were good steps.
County councillors received the complete report on the strategy.
“It has been very proactive for the county to take a leadership role in developing this strategy,” he said. “It is very forward thinking.”
Warden Robinson said dealing with seniors housing it will be important to work with other groups in the county.
“Facilitating the implementation involving many other groups will be essential for us,” she said. “We have this magnificent report and now we need to share it.”
The reality of the aging population was not lost on her or the members of county council, she said.
“There are more than 30 per cent seniors staring at you right now,” she said.
It will also be important to look at the diverse needs of seniors, including the aging-at-home strategy.
“The folks on the wait list that could stay at home, age at home with the right supports,” she said.
Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue said it is good to look at different ways of addressing the housing needs for seniors.
“Bricks and mortar long-term care is not going to be a viable way of meeting the needs of this particular demographic,” he said. “New beds won’t meet the need.”
Having this report shows the county what is possible, he added.
Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon asked what the consequence would be of doing nothing about the senior housing crunch.
Mr. Foulds said one result was out migration.
“When people can’t get the housing and supports they need, they leave,” he said.
Warden Robinson said the status quo is not an option.
“Doing nothing we are just welcoming a crisis to happen,” she said.
The issue of homelessness in the county has made her realize the precarious situation many people live in, she added. Knowing there are 33 people being housed in hotels across the county because they are homeless is a reminder of the crisis.
“That also includes people over 65,” she pointed out.
North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose asked what can be done in planning policy to assist in the seniors housing crunch.
“Are there specific planning policies which will encourage development to allow for more senior housing?” he asked.
Mr. Foulds said ideas like allowing granny suites or second suites is a start.
“Allowing an Abbey Field home – a congregate living arrangement,” he said, adding smaller lot single homes and more town houses are other ideas.
As part of the Community Services report, Warden Robinson later pointed out a full report will be coming to the county about the homeless issue and showing who the people are who are homeless.
“We need to have a really close look at what is happening in our communities as far as housing is concerned,” she said.
“I can’t imagine where we can find homes for these folks,” she added.
The report also showed there are 129 senior applicants looking for county housing, 417 adults and 418 individuals who are part of a family unit. Most seniors and adults are looking for a one-bedroom unit.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader