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HOUSING CRISIS: Future uncertain for Kamloops senior living on old age pension

Kamloops resident Celeste Fummerton gives her dog Edgar a treat.
Kamloops resident Celeste Fummerton gives her dog Edgar a treat.

A senior in Kamloops is living on next to nothing in order to make her monthly payments and she’s not alone.

The amount of CPP and old age pension Celeste Fummerton receives every month is $67 more than what she pays for rent.

“The numbers don’t work, what do we (seniors) do, I’m afraid for the future, it looks horrifying,” she said. “I’m finding it difficult as a senior to wrangle my way through the world and I'm concerned for the others.”

Fummerton is currently able to make ends meet because of an inheritance her parents left her but has no idea how she will survive after those funds dry up. She has given up most of the things she’s loved to stretch the money out as long as possible. She is living in a neighbourhood she doesn’t feel safe in and has let go of any retirement dreams she once had.

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“My underwear are thread bare, that’s one thing, you don’t buy underwear like you used to, nobody can see those, it doesn’t matter what they look like, but it does matter to your psyche,” she said. “Underwear is one of the first things that goes, and socks, you wear your socks until they are threadbare.”

Fummerton said she doesn’t spend money on clothes or go shopping anymore. Her winter coat is so old it doesn’t have insulation anymore. She no longer explores the trails and parks in the outskirts of the city because she can’t afford the fuel to get there. She hasn’t been out for a meal with friends for years.

“We seniors give up everything, we used to go out for dinners here and there,” she said. “I haven’t been out for food for years and can’t even tell you what’s out there for restaurants anymore.”

The only thing she spends money on is her dog Edgar.

“I don’t want to live my life without a dog, that’s what seniors are forced to do as well, they can’t afford their pets,” she said. “They can’t afford the healthcare for their pets. That’s not fair. Seniors need that companionship. I’d be lost and lonely without Edgar.”

After working in the retail and restaurant industries for 50 years, Fummerton expected to spend retirement living where she wanted and travelling around enjoying the parks and outdoor spaces around the province. But that hasn't been the case.

She was forced to move a year ago when the house she was renting went up for sale. Limited finances along with owning a dog left her with few options, so she ended up renting in an unsavoury neighbourhood on Kamloops’ North Shore.

“I’m living in a neighbourhood I don’t feel safe. If I made enough money I wouldn’t be living here,” she said. “I wouldn’t have chosen this area, it’s a scary neighbourhood, I don’t walk the dog after dark anymore.”

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Now nearing 70 years of age, Fummerton said she worked four decades as a bar tender in Kamloops, living from pay cheque to pay cheque, and bringing in tips.

“At that time I could still afford to go on outings but in the moment I wasn’t looking ahead at putting into a pension,” she said. “If you don’t do that you wind up like me and I’m sure there are hundreds of us in this town alone that worked our whole lives and now we can’t do anything.”

She said her senior friends also spent their lives working and some don’t have enough money for food and have to ask her for financial help for groceries.

“We are consistently overlooked as seniors and I don’t know why,” she said. “We put that money into CPP and the economy, we put all that money into old age security pensions, we worked and worked and worked for 40 years most of us and then when we retire we don’t have any money to do anything with because the government doesn’t give a shit, they just don’t care.”

Recently Fummerton took a beginner’s course in Reiki. She’s been exchanging Reiki sessions with friends in exchange for basic things like haircuts and preserves. When she takes the next level of Reiki training, she’ll be able to earn a bit of money.

“Everyone likes the Reiki thing, my friends will bring me things like cookies in exchange and through word of mouth more people will come here. This will be my supplemental income.”

Her inheritance money will stretch for a few years unless an unexpected cost comes up. Once that money is gone she said there's no hope.

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Fummerton isn't alone.

An aging population and rising costs of living, along with inadequate incomes for seniors is creating a housing crisis with the average senior spending 78 percent of their income on rent, according to a report by United Way BC published in November.

The housing available with subsidized rent for seniors is declining along with low-cost private options due to evictions and "renovictions", redevelopment and owners renting their property seasonally.

Almost 20% of seniors are considered at risk of homelessness in BC, according to the United Way, and there's a growing number of seniors living in substandard or unsafe housing. An increasing number of these seniors find themselves on the verge of homelessness for the first time in their 60s and 70s.

Renee Stein is the executive director of the Out of the Cold shelter in Kamloops.

Stein said in a previous interview with that homeless seniors are no longer a rare sight in the city and there's “an increase in elderly folk accessing the shelter.”

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“Homeless seniors are more likely to be in a fragile medical state, they can arrive at the shelter with colostomy bags and walkers and it’s beyond the scope of practise for shelter workers,” she said.

Stein said most of the seniors accessing the shelter haven’t always been homeless and with with seniors it’s usually a situational thing like they can’t afford rent or are too old to maintain the place they’re living in.

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