"It hurt my heart": Armstrong woman helps homeless senior off the street - InfoNews

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"It hurt my heart": Armstrong woman helps homeless senior off the street

Brandi Mahood stopped to pick up a senior on the side of the road Dec. 29, 2016 near Armstrong.
Image Credit: Contributed
January 11, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - It was a cold December day when Armstrong woman Brandi Mahood noticed an elderly woman walking down the side of the highway, dragging a garbage bag behind her.

Mahood turned her car around that day, Dec. 29, and asked the woman where she was going. The woman said she was headed to the bus stop in Spallumcheen.

It was snowing heavily, and Mahood says the woman was carrying a blanket that was frozen solid.

“She kept saying she needed to get to a laundromat to wash her blanket,” Mahood says. “I realized she was probably homeless and in a bad spot.”

Mahood gave the woman a ride to the laundromat in Armstrong and later returned with a jacket, warm blanket and some food.

She learned the woman had nowhere to live and had been sleeping under the stairs of a local church. 

Back at home, Mahood couldn’t stop thinking about the woman.

“I was lying in my warm bed watching the snow fall and it hurt my heart,” she says. “That’s not right. She needs help.”

She found the woman again the next day, and brought her more food and some money.

“I gave her my business card and said call me any time,” Mahood says. “She hugged me and said thank you for caring.”

Armstrong woman Brandi Manhood collected these items to give to a local senior in need.
Armstrong woman Brandi Manhood collected these items to give to a local senior in need.
Image Credit: Brandi Mahood

A few days passed, and then Mahood got a call from the woman. She wanted help contacting a rooming house in Vernon. Mahood left a message at the rooming house, and then went onto Facebook and asked friends and family to consider chipping in to put the woman up in a hotel until a more permanent arrangement could be made. It didn’t take long before enough money was raised to put her up for two weeks in an Enderby hotel.

“I went and found her after work and said ‘I’ve got a hotel for you.’ She just kind of looked up at me and said, ‘really?’” Mahood says.

Since she checked in to the hotel Jan. 5, enough additional funds have been raised to put her up until March.

Mahood is also encouraging the woman to seek assistance through organizations such as the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan to secure permanent housing. Mahood has contacted local organizations herself to see what help is available, and has already run into waiting lists at low-income housing complexes.

Mahood said she would pass on our request for an interview to the woman, but says she is a private person and may not wish to speak publicly. We hope to learn more about her story and current situation.

GROWING NUMBER OF SENIORS LIVING ON THE STREET

Seniors represent an ever-growing percentage of the homeless population, according to Barb Levesque, the executive director of the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan.

“The rapid increase in the percentage of clients who are over 65 is a real concern for our staff,” Levesque says.

While there can be numerous reasons why a senior might be on the streets, one is that traditional seniors homes simply do not suit everyone, Levesque says.

“There are social norms in senior supported housing that are sometimes difficult for people to conform to,” she says, giving communal meals as an example.

Sometimes, a senior might not be able to afford housing, or might have mental health or substance abuse issues requiring different support from what a traditional seniors home would provide.

“I know people don’t want to believe this. They want to believe if a poor senior in the North Okanagan needs a certain kind of housing, we want to believe that is available. But unfortunately that’s not true,” Levesque says.

The society has worked with other agencies including the Interior Health Authority to increase the variety of options for seniors housing in the region, but Levesque says there is still a long way to go.

“We are reaching points of real crisis, not just in our community but across Canada,” she says. “Finding appropriate housing for the most vulnerable, and the most difficult to house, is becoming increasingly impossible.”

Part of the strain comes from two converging trends; a national housing crunch and a large number of baby boomers entering their senior years, Levesque says.

In partnership with B.C. Housing, the society opened up a new, low-income housing project last year called Blair Apartments. The 39-unit complex is already full with a long waiting list.

“Even before we opened, we had 200 people on a wait list,” she says. “It’s a drop in the bucket.”

While there are seniors living at Blair Apartments, the complex is for individuals of any age looking for affordable housing and is simply not enough to meet the massive demand. 

Levesque encourages members of the public looking for a way to help to donate or volunteer to a local organization, and to get engaged in politics.

“Vote around this issue, ask questions around this issue,” she says. “This issue is not going away and it’s not going to be easily solved.”

While the homeless woman described in this story is off the streets for the time being, it is clear long-term solutions are needed to help seniors stay housed. 

Anyone wishing to contact Mahood directly can do so at brandimahood@gmail.com


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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