How to avoid being warehoused in the twilight years

As  women age, their homes can become too much to manage and they are eventually forced to move to a “retirement” home or an “assisted living “ apartment, giving up cherished possessions and leaving familiar spaces.

Even active seniors face many evenings alone is their spouse is gone.
Even active seniors face many evenings alone is their spouse is gone.

By Dorothy Dobbie
Women of a certain age are among least affluent in the population. Often they outlive their spouses by many years, trapped in a lifestyle constricted by a marginal income. The average Canada Pension Plan income is about $2,400 below the poverty level. Indeed, the maximum income from OAS/GIS is just over $14,000 a year. For these women, life is difficult: whether they are trying to eke out their remaining days or living in an apartment, the numbers just don’t work in their favour. Even with supplemental income coming from the sale of a home, the numbers are not pretty.

A one-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg will run anywhere from $650 to $3,000 a month, averaging somewhere around $1,000 before utilities. There are some subsidized spaces where rent is set at 25 per cent to 27 per cent of total income, but many of these are very unpleasant places to live in, if you can get into one. A person subsisting on the government pension simply cannot manage unless there is some additional stipend to help them out. There is certainly little left over to sample the remaining joys of life.

On the other hand, there are women who are reasonably well off, living in large homes after their husbands have passed away. Some of them adjust well and find joy in friends and various pursuits. Some travel. But even for the most active, there are long evenings spent alone, with no one to talk to. As these women age, their homes can become too much to manage and, often much to their regret, they are eventually forced to move to a “retirement” home or an “assisted living “ apartment, giving up cherished possessions and leaving familiar spaces.

So here we have two lonely women faced with living the rest of their lives in unfriendly, unfamiliar spaces, warehoused with a bunch of strangers as neighbours. Wouldn’t it make sense to bring these two women together in a way that provides mutual benefit?

When I was a girl, my elderly widowed aunt owned a large three-storey house on Canora Street. I don’t think money was a problem for her, but help with the house and garden certainly was, especially as she aged. Her answer was practical and sensible. She “took in” women younger than herself as “companions”. They paid her a nominal amount to pay for their food and share her home, which became their home, too. In return for the “subsidized” living accommodation, they helped her with the chores, offered companionship and eventually friendship. There was always someone there in case of emergency.

My aunt was a member of the Orange Lodge and so had access to women of her own peer group. She didn’t have to advertise for these live-ins who fit in naturally into her life and with her other friends and acquaintances.

She died in her own home at 89, leaving a small legacy for each of her long-time friends and companions.

This elegant solution to the issue of housing younger low-income female seniors and making it possible for the wealthier to stay at home should be re-considered. It offers a way to finally smell the flowers after growing them is done.

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