Madeline Nelner always invited people into her home when they had nowhere else to go.
And now, even after the 93-year-old died in 2018, her home will be used for just that.
Madeline's son, Dennis Nelner, is transforming the roughly 2,000-square-foot house in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., into a five-room assisted living facility.
He said he wanted seniors to have a place to receive day-to-day care — an option he said his mother would have wanted. She lived with just one a kidney for decades.
"She was a strong woman," Dennis said.
But eventually, Madeline needed frequent dialysis treatment and that meant she had to travel far from comfort to receive care in Yellowknife.
"She had to leave home and that was a big problem for mom," explaining that she was used to living at home, where family and friends would visit her.
"It was a five-minute walk to the store, to the post office, to the bank.... Everybody would know her and say hello," he said. "That's the thing she missed the most."
She had to leave home and that was a big problem for mom. - Dennis Nelner
Dennis plans to call the transformed home Ama's House — "ama" meaning "my mother" in Dene.
It will be funded with the help of a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation program that supports existing community housing providers to continue to be viable.
Though the home won't necessarily cater to more complex medical needs, such as dialysis, it will still be an alternative for a few seniors who need assisted living but want to stay in the community.
And that option is a big deal, says Suzette Montreuil, the executive director of the NWT Seniors' Society.
"Most elders and seniors want to stay in their own home," Montreuil said. "But often they come to a place where they need more assistance and there's a real lack of places where they can [go for] supportive or assisted living."
Elders are fastest growing demographic
She said it's especially problematic since seniors are the fastest growing demographic in the territory — a fact that highlights the need for better living options for seniors.
In 2018, there were 5,981 people aged 60 or older in the territory, compared to 2003 when there were 2,787 people in that age cohort, according to government statistics. Of people over aged 60, 42.7 per cent have issues with housing affordability, adequacy and suitability. As well, 28.1 per cent of that age group required minor home repairs, while 19.5 per cent needed major repairs in 2019.
By 2035, the population of adults aged 60 and over in the N.W.T. is expected to be 9,383.
Montreuil said admissions to long-term care homes are done on a regional basis. Because of the rich cultural diversity from one community to another, that could mean a senior is placed in care in a community where they have no relatives and friends, and perhaps worse, they may speak a different language.
"That's really important to think of," Montreuil said.
"If you went from being in the same village your whole life and you had to move to another place where you didn't know a lot of people and perhaps you didn't speak the local language, that's a really big deal."
Montreuil said creating a small community assisted living home, like the one Dennis is creating, helps.
If you went from being in the same village your whole life and you had to move to another place where you didn't know a lot of people and perhaps you didn't speak the local language, that's a really big deal.- Suzette Montreuil, NWT Seniors' Society executive director
But overall, there needs to be a large increase in assisted living options in the territory, including in-home care options, she said.
"Aging in place with dignity is one of the priorities of the 19th [legislative] assembly, and assisted living would be part of that," Montreuil said.
For Dennis, who hopes to open the facility sometime next year, he said he's happy he can at least provide a space for some of the seniors in his community — just as his mother would have wanted.
"I'm feeling real confident that we can forge ahead," he said. "I know my mom's looking down, giving me all the encouragement I need."