News and announcements 06/11/2019

Colourful murals and work by local artists decorate the walls of the dining area at the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre in Winnipeg’s Inkster neighbourhood. The bright open space is humming with the sound of clinking utensils, scraping plates and laughter. It’s an international polyglot of Filipino and First Nations people, newcomers from China and Laos, children and seniors—people speaking different languages, sharing stories and a delicious, healthy meal. There’s a group of teenagers sitting at a table with some older community members who are entertaining everyone with real life tales from back in the day.


Making spaces for seniors

It's enough to give a person hope for humanity. And yet such intergenerational spaces are astonishingly rare. Our society offers few opportunities for people of different ages and stages to be in the same room together, let alone learning, sharing and supporting one another. And for seniors, who often find themselves facing health issues, declining incomes and social isolation as they leave the workforce, such interaction with others can be the difference between merely surviving and actually thriving.

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At Community Food Centres across the country—where 29% of adult participants are seniors, and nearly half of them also volunteer in the programs—the tremendous positive impact these opportunities provide is abundantly clear. From sharing their knowledge and a meal at Mount Paul Community Food Centre in Kamloops, to making dinner with young people through the Intergenerational Meal program at The Depot in Montreal and volunteering their time and skills in the garden in Hamilton, seniors help create these rich, vibrant places for everyone.


Current challenges

But, of course, for many low-income seniors in towns and cities across Canada, the reality is far less encouraging. Many suffer from poor health and inadequate diets that compromise their well-being. One in six Canadian seniors are socially isolated. And poverty for over-65s is on the rise. In fact, seniors are becoming low income at a much higher rate than the rest of the population, with older women and single people the most at risk of falling behind.

As the number of seniors gets set to double in Canada by 2036, and one in three report not being financially set for retirement, we may well have a looming public policy crisis on our hands.

 

What's being done

There have been some important government responses to this demographic shift, including increases to the federal Old Age Security (OAS), payments for the low-income recipients of the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), the creation of a Minister of Seniors, and investments in homecare, as well as a promised boost to allowable earning exemptions for the latter (so benefits aren’t entirely clawed back if seniors are able to work part-time). The federal government also touts its strengthening of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) as part of a plan to build a more secure retirement for Canadians—though the phased-in increase won’t make a real difference until 2065.

But even with such improvements, seniors who don’t have adequate workplace pensions or private savings to supplement government supports will continue to struggle to make ends meet. Add to this a lack of affordable housing, especially in cities, the increasing cost of healthy food and pharmaceuticals as well as insufficient investment in homecare options, and it’s clear the challenge is real.

 


The path forward

It's why community members and volunteers at CFCs across the country are advocating for income supports that make good food accessible for everyone, for affordable housing, and strengthening workplace pensions. It’s why we’re working with seniors in all centres to highlight the issues they care about, and supporting them to advocate on their own behalf.

But when it comes to improving the lives of Canadian seniors, it is increasingly clear that policy initiatives must go hand in hand with a seismic shift in how we think about aging. People are living longer, better lives and have much to offer to the world and their communities, including skills, knowledge, wisdom and experience.

Instead of thinking solely about the burden and costs associated with aging, we need to look at the benefits and opportunities seniors bring to our collective table. Researchers on active aging suggest we can do this by considering the whole life cycle and focusing less on a person’s economic benefit or “productivity.” Seniors can be engaged members of society, contributing to the cultural, social, spiritual and civic realms even if they are no longer working or are dealing with physical limitations. The importance of volunteering, for instance, can't be underestimated—both for the seniors who report a decrease in loneliness as a result of offering up their time, and for those they support.

At the NorWest Co-op CFC, The Depot, Mount Paul, Hamilton and other Community Food Centres across Canada, such a shift has already begun. It’s in programs that encourage intergenerational connections and knowledge sharing as well as wellness and fitness, in initiatives that use healthy food as the best kind of medicine, it’s in staff who meet seniors where they’re at and create opportunities for them to contribute in a myriad of ways to building healthier and more connected communities. 


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