Jericho Beach is one of Evelyn Legault’s favourite places to visit, but getting there hasn’t been easy since she started walking with a cane.
Vancouver’s affluent Westside may seem like a pensioner’s paradise: you can dine on Broadway, shop on 4th Avenue and walk along its beaches all in a day. But for the elderly in the neighbourhood, life is not always so heavenly.
“Services I find missing are ones for seniors who have trouble moving around,” said Legault.
Legault is a senior familiar with Vancouver’s Westside, where public transportation isn’t always geared towards the elderly. Now seniors are doing something about it by volunteering to create a resource guide for Westside seniors.
The guidebook is part of the Seniors Mapping Project, a larger initiative taking place at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, a non-profit organization that provides services to communities on the Westside.
The project is an offshoot of one that took place with young people last spring. Check it Out , the youth guide to the Westside, contains tips for teenagers on everything from “Finding a Place to Hangout” to “Employment.”
The seniors’ guidebook is distinct because it will contain photographs taken by the people involved. At the start of November, Legault and a bunch of concerned seniors buckled into a van provided by the Kits Neighbourhood House and toured the Westside with their disposable cameras. Their assignment was to take photos of places in the community where seniors feel comfortable.
The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology was one of their first stops. “It is interesting and cheap,” said Donna Walters, but “getting there involves a lot of travelling.” She drives a car, but for those who no longer drive, getting around is often impossible.
Petition for new shuttle
“Transportation is the number one issue for seniors living on Vancouver’s Westside,” said Julie Wall, seniors coordinator at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House.
Public transit is an affordable alternative, but “many seniors will shy away from buses full of students.”
HandyDART services are available, but these seniors say rigid schedules can make it difficult to get to an appointment on time or to stay through an entire exercise class.
Disappointments like this explain why the Westside is seeing a bit of a ‘grey’ uprising. In the summer, 735 seniors signed petitions in support of a new shuttle for the area.
The Westside Seniors Empowerment Coalition has drafted a potential route, with stops like Safeway and the doctor offices on Broadway.
Today, most Westside seniors walk, and that means until services improve, Legault won’t be watching the sunset at Jericho as often as she wishes.
Living among affluence
The high cost of living is another issue seniors on the Westside face. “I think there is a misconception that people here can afford everything, that they are affluent,” says Wall.
“I would like to see a lot of freer, cheaper things to do,” said Walters. This sentiment was echoed by the others, who have noticed that finding lunch on the Westside for under $15 is getting hard.
Jennifer Longson, the coordinator of the Seniors Mapping Project, is worried that this idea creates a stigma for seniors and vulnerable populations of basement suite renters, students, and low income families.
This idea also makes access to funding for community projects difficult, says Catherine Leach, the Executive Director at Kits Neighbourhood House.
As the only neighbourhood house on the Westside, Kits House is responsible for advocating the needs of people from Granville to U.B.C. and from Musqueam to Cornwall.
Providing services to such a broad community is often challenging, which is why Legault and seniors like her are doing what they can to help and taking matters into their own hands, despite sore joints.