Darlene Conley is becoming one of a growing number of seniors who are or could find themselves homeless in B.C.
Recently she stopped working at a restaurant in Williams Lake due to arthritis in her spine and hips that makes it hard to stand.
“I’ve put in resumes to do office work, but haven’t heard back from anyone,” she says.
Single, with a seven-year-old border collie/lab cross named Jazz, Conley’s now trying to live on $618 a month.
She’s receiving $234 from a pension and $384 from social assistance.
The basic rate for a single person on social assistance in B.C. is now $610.
Presently she’s renting a small cabin on South Lakeside for $600 plus utilities; however, she does not think she can stay there much longer.
Her landlord has not given her an eviction notice, but she’s expecting disconnection notices from hydro and gas to show up any day because she hasn’t been able to pay the
“I’m desperately looking for somewhere to live that I can afford and am not having any luck. There’s nothing under $500 or $600,” she says, admitting she’s considering moving into her car, a 1993 Saturn that’s falling apart.
It is now off the road because she cannot afford the insurance.
Conley, 62, moved to Williams Lake seven years ago in search of a better future after a friend in Vancouver told her there were lots of jobs here.
At the time she was raising her two granddaughters and looking for a way to care for them.
Many seniors don’t have money due to circumstances beyond their control, Conley points out.
Swallowing her pride and asking for help is the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, she admits, but she’s realizing she won’t get anywhere by holding it in.
Last week her landlord put her in touch with local homelessness outreach worker Wayne Lucier, who told her he can help out with $120 a month to subsidize her rent.
She’s worried, however, that she’ll still be unable to make ends meet.
Lucier has a total allowance of $1,200 a month he can use to pay landlords directly to help low-income people meet rent payments.
An employee of the Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch, Lucier says it’s a new group of homeless — those people who are 55 and older.
“When I first started six years ago, most of my clients were from 30 to 45. Now it seems that they are 19 to 24 or 55 and older,” Lucier explains.
Sitting in the office at Jubilee Place — one of two transitional housing projects in the province — with CMHA employment and social manager Darlene Doskoch, Lucier says the 35 units have been filled since it opened. There’s also a waiting list to get in.
“Most homeless people don’t have anything so when they move in I can help them out,” he says, adding he’s open to donations.
“To move in here people have to be homeless or are becoming homeless. Wayne refers a lot of people here,” Doskoch adds.
While some people move in and progress to moving out in as soon as two months, there are others who may end up staying forever.
“We call it a good stepping stone,” Doskoch says.
Jubilee Place is located in what used to be a motel and Doskoch describes it as a community.
“Here, when people walk out their door they see each other and they get together,” Doskoch says.
Lucier says homeless people in Conley’s age range are having the hardest time.
“They’ve been self-supporters and worked their whole life and due to different things that are happening, whether their jobs have shut down or physically they can’t do the work anymore.”
A few days ago a 56-year-old woman contacted him and said she recently lost her job with a logging company that’s closing down.
“She’s dropped resumes off everywhere,” Lucier says.
Both Lucier and Doskoch have huge praises for the amenities and resources available to low-income people in Williams Lake.
“Williams Lake is a caring community. If we didn’t have the people we have in Williams Lake we would have had more people starving to death a long time ago,” Lucier explains, adding the Friendship Centre has a shelter, and will even put out extra mats on the floor in the winter.
“You look at other cities and towns, most of the older hotels have been turned into group homes, or whatever. All of ours have burnt down,” Lucier says, noting the number one barrier people identify for finding housing is the lack of affordable housing.