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Housing woes deepen for Park-Ex seniors

By Joe Bongiorno

Park Extension’s low-income senior citizens are struggling with the effects of prolonged isolation and difficult housing conditions.

Prolonged isolation

Sandi Ponente is an outreach worker at Tandem Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension. She visits three separate low-income housing units to keep seniors socially active with activities like memory games.

In Ponente’s experience, the majority of inhabits are very isolated, and this limited social interaction—worsened by the ongoing pandemic—has proved damaging to their memories.

“Cognitive skills have deteriorated,” said Ponente. “A lot of them don't have anybody. There are 222 residents in the three buildings, and 177 of them live alone. They don't have access to internet. They've been stuck in front of the TV for last two years.

While language barriers and the presence of numerous different cultural communities can act as obstacles to residents participating in activities, France Vallières, community organizer at Office Municipal d'Habitation de Montréal, believes that outreach workers must continue with their efforts to engage residents in activities.

“We need to knock at their door and to invite them one by one because otherwise it's difficult to have the participation of the people,” she said.

Vallières believes that there are enough resources available to Park-Ex residents who ask for them, but finding subsidies to pay outreach workers is a long-standing cause of instability among staff.

“Every time we hire a person for like six months, nine months, and then after that we don't have any more money, [and] we cannot pay [the person] anymore,” she said. “Then the person goes to work somewhere else.”

Ponente is committed to her job, but she admits that she is often faced with the limits of what she can accomplish. “I feel like I’m putting duct tape on things when I don't have enough resources. I do my best, but it's freaking difficult.

The pains of poverty

Despite living in subsidized housing units, many low-income elderly inhabitants lack access to services that affect basic needs.

“So many people have problems with their teeth,” said Ponente. “They can’t afford to go to the dentist or get dentures, [and so] they're malnourished in some cases. In fact, one woman pulled out several of her own teeth to avoid visits to the dentist while many drag themselves around their apartments on regular chairs, she said.

“The CLSC doesn't provide anything when it comes to walkers [and] canes,” said Ponente. “[Some] people don't have $120 or $140 for a walker. They can't afford it, so a lot of them can't be mobile because they don't have the necessary tools.”

But in spite of difficulties, the poor do benefit from low-income HLM units they reside in, said Vallières. “Every person that lives in [low-income housing] suffers from poverty because to have access to [low-income housing], you need to have very low income. But the fact that there are these kinds of apartments help them. They pay less for the apartments, and they don't pay for the electricity, so they have more money for other stuff.”

A Park-Ex problem

Although Vallières believes that the issue of poverty extends beyond Park-Ex, housing in the neighbourhood is a particular area of concern. “I know that there's a lot of very bad apartments with not very good owners and the [low-income] people pay a lot of money for very bad apartments.”

According to Jean-François Charland, director at Tandem Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension, seniors who live in Park-Extension are in some ways extra vulnerable to general housing issues that span private properties poorly maintained by landlords, renovictions, and gentrification. These challenges can affect their health and ability to access services like food banks and making them aware of their rights is challenging, said Charland.

According to Joanna Tsoublekas, founder and director of FILIA, many in Park-Extension live in poverty as a result of insufficient pensions and the increasingly high cost of rent. “In Park-Extension the rents are very high for the accommodations,” said Tsoublekas. “If you pay $600, $700 for something that is garbage, what do you have left for your other expenses [like] food?”

Tsoublekas believes that more social housing units are needed and that caps should be placed on rent for people living under the poverty line. This, she said, would allow seniors to live in more humane conditions. “There is a big need for social housing because the rents are so expensive,” she said. “Nobody can afford the rent.

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