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Housing, advocacy services in short supply, study says

“The challenge in rural areas is what is possible given that some towns are very, very small.”

– VERENA MENEC, DIRECTOR CENTRE ON AGING, UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA

Older adults living in Manitoba’s small towns have many opportunities to volunteer, can usually get a home meal delivered and have access to a Handi-Van.

But information or help on matters such as financial fraud or elder abuse is much harder to find. Housing is in very short supply. Getting the ear of local government isn’t easy either.

Those are findings from surveys done in 130 municipalities this year to gauge the “age-friendliness” of smaller towns, villages and R. M. s. They are compiled in a new report titled How Age-Friendly are Manitoba’s Communities? completed by the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba.

The surveys asked municipalities to indicate what services for seniors were available, and the role of municipal government in providing them.

“Age-friendly” is a term used to denote how physical and social environments enable older people to live securely, enjoy good health and participate in community life.

The most basic need in rural communities is for more and better housing for seniors, says Verena Menec, director of the Centre on Aging. “We’ve heard throughout these surveys that housing is a real challenge,” she said.

About two-thirds of towns surveyed had some form of subsidized housing available. Less than half provide any type of home maintenance or repair services for those living independently. Yet, many of the towns surveyed indicate the need for housing is growing rapidly, as larger numbers of citizens reach retirement.

More than a third of communities surveyed reported 20 per cent or more of their population is already at 65 years of age or older already. In some towns, one in three persons is over 65 years old.

Needs are as diverse as they are widespread, said Menec. “Some want to stay in their home. Some want to move into an apartment but want a meal program and social programs with it,” she said. “The challenge in rural areas is what is possible given that some towns are very, very small.”

The concern for local government is that as demand for housing rises, so does the risk that these small towns will lose more of their residents, she added.

The most “age-friendly” aspects of places surveyed included availability of support services such as snow removal and lawn care, as well as public transportation, various recreational programs and generally widespread availability of congregate meal programs.

Most places also noted there is formal recognition for seniors’ volunteer contributions.

The least “age-friendly” aspects were the lack of advocacy services and support for socially isolated seniors.

Few municipal councils also indicated they consult older adult residents on matters such as planning.

“The lack of policies and guidelines that benefit seniors was evident in all municipalities,” the report said.

The study was put together using methodology adapted from U. S. research that’s aiming to assist communities with planning for aging populations. This study was completed by sending surveys to mayors and reeves of all 198 municipalities in Manitoba. In all, 129 communities responded.

Menec said the high rate of response shows the importance of this issue for rural communities. [email protected]

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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