Seniors face higher user fees at city centres

By Jessica Simmins

Senior centres in Ottawa are facing a “double whammy.” The city’s 2004 draft budget proposes a cut of five per cent to the 12 city-funded seniors’ centres, potentially putting their services at risk.

Not only will they lose money from the city because of proposed changes to the municipal budget, but they could stand to lose much more from the province, too.

“We’re trying to sensitize the city,” says Louise Martin, executive director of the Good Companions Seniors’ Centre. “Seniors will be the largest population in Ottawa and we’re looking at reducing services to the population that is going to be Ottawa in the next four or five years” she says.

The proposed cuts will not only cause the seniors centres to lose city funding, but the centres may lose yearly grants of $30,000 from the province, says Martin.

These provincial grants are reliant on the amount of city funds the centres receive. “Once we lose that provincial funding,” she says, “you can bet that we will have a very hard time getting it back.”

The Good Companions, a social support centre on Albert Street, provides seniors with services such as fitness and dance classes, as well as health improvement programs. Most of their members are Centretown residents, says Martin, many of whom are on small, fixed incomes.

Cuts to the centre would affect the services offered, says Martin. The centre would be forced to raise user fees, which could limit access to members who can’t afford to pay higher fees. At present, says Martin, she cannot say what the increase in user fees will be, as proposed cuts have not taken place.

Ron Hudson, a member of the Good Companions, has a monthly income of $1,255. With this amount, “I have to pay for everything,” he says. “ To seniors, (an increase in user fees) means quite a lot…there would be some things we can’t afford.”

Debbie Trickey, executive director of the Gloucester Senior Adults Centre, says the threat of losing both municipal and provincial funds a is “double whammy.”

Trickey says the centres are very important to the seniors who use them. They are “social networks that break isolation and provide a supportive group of friends,” she says.

The centres are “the social focus of their community… I’m even getting calls at home because the seniors are so worried,” she says.

Ottawa’s seniors’ centres, staff and members are working together to take on the city. Trickey says the Gloucester Centre has delivered a petition opposing municipal budget cuts with 300 signatures to east-end councillors.

At public consultations with the city’s health, recreation and social services committee this month, Martin explained to city councillors Ottawa’s seniors’ centres should be saved.

She points out that in next few years the demographics of Ottawa will change to reflect the aging population. Martin says that within five years, the majority of Ottawa residents will be senior citizens who may rely on the very services that are in jeopardy right now.