Seniors in Poverty: The Conundrum of Retirement in the Quinte Region

What happens when those who have spent a life-time working begin to age out of the workforce and are economically unable to retire? Sandy Downes is asking her community to ponder that question. A community that boasts of economic development and in 2014 was named one of the top 7 places to retire in Ontario1.

For Sandy, employment came early.

“My story begins with myself quitting school at 15 and going to my first job. Special permission had to be given to do this at such a young age.”

Since 15, Sandy’s work life has had moments of uncertainty; numerous places of employment, fluctuating schedules, and intermittent lay-offs. Sandy knows resilience, perseverance, and determination; Sandy juggled employment while raising two children as a single mom. Now employed full-time, Sandy has tirelessly worked to impact the lives of those who need her care, acting in our community as a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a great-grandparent, a neighbour, a friend. For Sandy, years of precarious work coupled with raising a family has left her with little opportunity to save for her aging years or for unforeseen circumstances.

At 71 years of age Sandy is wondering how she will exit the workforce with economic safety. Recognizing that without full-time work she will be unable to afford her current home, Sandy sought assistance and applied for Social Housing – a provincial rental program that retrofits rent to the tenant’s income.

“I applied to housing for a Geared to Income apartment and went to check into their accommodations. I was told that there was a two-year waiting list.”

While many would be discouraged by the significant wait list, Sandy was optimistic. She planned to continue working full-time using her income to maintain her current home while waiting for Social Housing, at which point she would retire and rely on her conservative pension to meet her basic needs. Unfortunately, Sandy’s application was denied.

“I make too much money was the answer I got in a letter.”

The moment Sandy retires her income level will drop significantly, awarding her potential eligibility for Social Housing. At the same time, the moment her income level drops she will be unable to afford her current housing – or any housing at market rent in our community. Faced with a housing crisis, our region has seen an 80% increase in seniors accessing affordable housing options, and of the 380 seniors who were seeking support in 2015, 99 were homeless2.

Is our province and our community asking Sandy to continue working indefinitely? Or are we effectively asking her to give up her current housing and face homelessness while she sits on a two-year wait list? Our communities are aging and we need to plan better than we are. To move from work to retirement should not equate with homelessness as it does in Sandy’s case and for many other seniors in our communities. Too many are experiencing homelessness as it is. Where are the plans and what are the plans to help people age well and with dignity?

Footnotes

1 – The Globe and Mail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/retirement/readers-pick-seven-great-places-for-retirement/article21352041/

2 — Poverty Facts (2016)

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