Aging in Community Workshop Surfaces Needs and Possibilities for Calgary

Highlights need for supports for people who don’t have equity to be able to participate in alternative housing venture

Kirsten Buhr

An Oct. 18 workshop that explored creating support services and housing options for older adults using the co-operative model revealed a significant need as well as exciting possibilities for Calgary.

Four types of housing options that could be developed using the co-op model were discussed: co-op housing; cohousing ; Abbeyfield Housing; and The Village model.

The workshop also focused on using the co-operative model to provide the services seniors want and require as they age in community.

Arlene Stamp and her husband

Arlene Stamp (left) has been committed to finding new solutions to the needs of seniors for some time now.

The key need the event brought home is that while all the models discussed are possible for people who have equity, some other support is required so that people who don’t necessarily have equity can also participate. For instance, other players could join for the express purpose of providing financial assistance or making an asset such as affordably-leased or mortgaged land available.

The event was promoted as an exploration of seniors’ housing options that keep the control of those options largely in the hands of the citizens themselves. “We don’t need to wait for government or some other large institution to create the kind of housing we desire,” was the message.

For Arlene Stamp, the workshop brought home a fresh sense of what Calgary’s seniors’ community might make possible.

“Up until now, I would have credited a vibrant community of younger people, inspired by our new mayor, with the new spirit I feel in this city, a new groundswell of civic pride and initiative,” she says.

“But perhaps it will be the seniors’ community and all those people interested in working with them that will make the next big change in Calgary.”

“Perhaps it will be the seniors’ community and all those people interested in working with them that will make the next big change in Calgary.”
— Arlene Stamp

Arlene has been committed to finding new solutions to the needs of seniors for some time now — likely ever since she became a senior herself, she says. She believes that this generation of seniors is generally healthier and readier to continue contributing to their community than her mother’s generation.

“The ‘grey tsunami’ has a chance to make societal-wide changes for this age group and to change how we are perceived by the rest of society.”

Arlene and her husband are committed to a seniors’ cohousing venture in B.C., and expect to leave Calgary in a year or two. Until then, they are interested in working with a group of people to set up a network of services they require to be able to live in their own homes as long as possible.

There are many U.S. networks like the one they’re envisioning, which is called the Village model, but none yet in Canada that they know of. Calgary could be the first jurisdiction to set one up.

Gael MacLeod is another Calgary resident who attended the workshop. Having sat on the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI), she was keenly aware of the promise in the co-operative model already, she says.

Gael MacLeod

Gael MacLeod

“I know that we are never going to solve or reduce poverty unless we can generate a broad network of responsibility. ‘My neighbour’s strength is my strength’ was our mantra (on the CPRI steering committee).”

“This can happen in a variety of communities, but I see co-operatives and the like as being a catalyst for creating a sense of community and/or belonging.”

Gael points out that housing is a critical issue for anyone, but seniors’ housing involves unique needs. “For one thing, seniors are often less mobile or limited in their ability to get out, which leads to social isolation when they need the social supports the most,” she says.

While she has no immediate plans to become actively involved in creating seniors’ housing, Gael says she will continue to be part of the discussions emerging from the workshop as well as to make any connections that might be helpful.

“We have known for years that the boomers will create a seniors bulge, and it’s going to be a real challenge to deal with the housing needs,” she says.

“Calgary has an opportunity to lead with new ideas through an understanding of the importance of community as part of the housing solution.”

Following the workshop, next steps include a survey of the 70 participants to gauge their interest in continued exploration of the different models that were discussed.

There are also plans for tours of local examples of these models over the next several months.

Information on these happenings will be included in an e-mail update to participants.

To learn about and be part of what’s emerging on this front, please e-mail Sarah Arthurs.

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