Housing tops seniors advocate concerns

Isobel Mackenzie will speak March 9 in the Garry Oak room of the Monterey Recreation Centre

B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie will speak Monday at the Monterey Recreation Centre in Oak Bay.

B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie will speak Monday at the Monterey Recreation Centre in Oak Bay.

Seniors’ concerns return to the forefront as the B.C. seniors advocate comes to Oak Bay March 9 to discuss her role, seniors’ concerns heard around B.C. and an upcoming housing report.

“Generally I’ll update the folks in Oak Bay about what this office is going to do, what it has done, and our housing report that is going to be released in April,” said Isobel Mackenzie. “Some of the challenges that we have ahead, some of the things I hope my office will be able to do to make things better for seniors in general in British Columbia.”

Mackenzie was appointed B.C.’s first seniors advocate in March 2014, to monitor and advise on a range of seniors’ services related to health care, personal care, housing, transportation and income support. She focuses on systemic issues: challenges that affect a large number of seniors. She has more than two decades of experience working with seniors in home care, licensed care, community services and volunteer services. She led B.C.’s largest not-for-profit agency; served on a number of national and provincial boards and commissions and currently serves on the University of Victoria’s board of governors.

As a Victoria resident, Mackenzie feels comfortable talking about issues residents in Oak Bay and other parts of the Capital Regional District face.

While the advocate’s focus is on making recommendations to government and those who deliver seniors’ services, individuals may identify a systemic issue and the advocate’s office assists individuals by connecting them with someone to help resolve issues. Part of the conversation will be letting residents know what the office of the seniors advocate can do to help them.

“We have an information and a referral line so we can connect people who they need to connect with,” Mackenzie said.

A major topic she’s talking about is housing and the report and recommendations on seniors housing that includes a survey of residential and home care facilities.

They’re looking to provide standardized information so seniors can compare facilities in different communities.

In another more informal survey, 60 per cent of seniors who fall below the required income level to pay Medical Services Plan premiums didn’t know they were eligible.

“It showed us a few things. It showed a very low awareness amongst seniors on a number of supports that they don’t know about,” Mackenzie said.

They found many seniors were not covered by benefits and those same residents didn’t know about supports in place.

“Certainly a focus of my office is going to be supports for low-income seniors, arguably the more money you have the more resources you can access,” Mackenzie said. “The median income for seniors is $24,000 a year.”

That means many residents are struggling to make ends meet in homes bought decades ago as a modest middle-income home.

“We’re going to look at what things government should be doing to achieve the goal of affordable accessible housing for seniors everywhere,” she said.

The B.C. Seniors Advocate speaks Monday, March 9 in the Garry Oak room of the Monterey Recreation Centre at 1 p.m.

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com