New supportive housing aims to keep seniors in Valemount longer
By Laura Keil
Work on a new supportive housing facility for Valemount seniors is well underway thanks to the work of local advocates, and organizers say the project is a stepping stone to a future long-term care facility.
For years seniors requiring more support like daily meals, housekeeping, and laundry have left Valemount, often for an urban facility hours away from their current home. While current programs like Better at Home and Meals on Wheels have helped fill some of the gaps, existing services haven’t been enough for some people, and has led to an exodus of the area’s elders.
Linda Hedberg is on the Valemount Cares committee, which operates under the Valemount Seniors Citizens Housing Society.
“I grew up here. I’ve lived here all my life,” she said. “And it would be so nice not to have to leave.”
Hedberg said sometimes the only spot available for seniors is in a different community— away from family and everyone they know.
“There’s nobody to come and visit them. It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Rashmi Narayan, local Project Lead, says the proposed 16-unit development would improve the likelihood seniors could stay in the community longer by providing services like twice-daily meals, housekeeping, laundry and opportunities to socialize.
How those services will be paid for is still up in the air—Narayan said it would either be a partnership with other local agencies and/or an agreement with Northern Health.
“We have initiated conversations with Northern Health and they are in the midst of determining seniors’ needs for the whole region.”
Local advocates say the need is already there. When they first counted how many seniors had moved due to lack of supportive housing, the committee counted 15-16 seniors who could have potentially stayed in Valemount if supportive housing was available. That number excluded anyone needing long-term care or higher-level medical care.
Also, a 2019 survey of local seniors showed 75 of 115 seniors (65 per cent) preferred supportive housing over independent housing when it came time for them to move.
The Society also runs two other seniors housing units—Golden Years Lodge and the independent row housing on 3rd and Cedar. These independent-living units (with outside agencies providing some services) are usually full and there is often a wait list.
BC Housing and CMHC would require the rents be affordable in the new development, Narayan said, ranging from just below market rent to deeply subsidized rents of $375.
Valemount Council has provided the Village-owned Ash Street lot for the project, and committed to funding a new lift station from grants to service this parcel, which is also the site of other proposed affordable housing.
A pleasing & green design
The design of the Phase 1 building itself is one of the things that most pleases Hedberg.
“The corridor going down the middle of the building has got skylights in it. So it’s all light.”
She said the brightness extends to the suites as well.
“The rooms are going to be, I think, plenty spacious enough for people. But the main thing is, there’s lots of light in them. And they have a little outdoor space, which is going to be nice. And they also have an indoor courtyard that is going to be very user-friendly for older people.”
The corridor with the sky light will have seating along both sides, allowing seniors to socialize with others in the hall, while still keeping a distance, a feature brought to prominence by COVID-19.
Laurel McKirdy, who is on the Valemount Cares committee and the Society’s board, says she’s hopeful about the community connection around the center, with it being close to the high school and the community garden.
“I hope it builds community connection with not just seniors but with other ages,” she said. “The community garden in the summertime, it would be a nice walk over there.”
A village-led mixed housing subdivision is in the works for the land next door, and McKirdy hopes a park area or garden trails might connect with some of the other residential areas too.
Narayan says they hope to design the building to a higher building efficiency to help with ongoing costs and to have it Net Zero Ready. She says the Green Municipal Fund will kick in about 20 per cent more in grant money to go to Net Zero and to be Net Zero Ready will cost approx. 15 per cent more.
Baby steps to long-term care
The Valemount Cares project has two phases—supportive housing and long-term care.
“We’re hoping this is baby steps towards long-term care,” Hedberg said.
Narayan says Northern Health doesn’t typically fund capital costs for new long-term care beds, which is why the society hopes to provide the building. Plans for the long-term care wing already included in the Phase 2 part of the plan, and would adjoin the existing Phase 1 by a shared interior hallway.
Long-term care would be provided and/or funded by the Ministry of Health.
“This is the way to get our foot in the door,” said Hedberg.
The commuting problem
Valemount residents requiring long-term care can often get a placement at the closest facility in McBride Hospital’s long-term care wing, but despite being only an hour away, it’s a big hurdle for visitors.
McKirdy’s Mom spent years in long-term care in McBride, and relatives in Valemount and Prince George had a 2-4 hour return commute to visit her.
“If Mum had been in town, she would have probably had a visit almost every day,” McKirdy said. “When she was in McBride, which is the closest place, it was a big effort on our part—and there were three or four of us to do it—it was an effort to make sure she had a visit once a week.”
If she had remained in Valemount, it would have been easier for her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends to pop by for a visit, she said.
“You’re in to get your groceries and you swing by (the long-term care unit) for 15 minutes or half an hour. Even a short visit would be easy.”
“You would have more friends visiting.”
She said the commuting cost alone would deter a lot of people, and that’s if they’re still comfortable driving on the highway—including in winter conditions.
The society was approved for $86,775 in funding through CBT’s Community Initiatives grant stream this month and will use that money to do site assessments; hire consultants, architects and engineers to make grant applications for the common areas; and complete a Net Zero Ready feasibility study. Included in the study will be an implementation plan for the building to operate off the grid in 10 years.
They hope to get the go-ahead from BC Housing in May. Unfortunately, BC Housing only covers the housing-related needs of residents, not the common areas, but Valemount Cares committee members are undeterred. They plan to fundraise $100,000 to show the community’s support for the 2,700 sq feet of common areas and to match other grant funding. The committee has already raised $24,826 and is accepting donations and issuing tax receipts. You can donate online at www.vschs.ca/fundraising/ or send contributions to VSCHS – Valemount Cares, Box 598, Valemount, BC V0E 2Z0. For more details about the project, contact Rashmi at [email protected]