Contest uncovers hidden tragedy of impoverished seniors
Published Tuesday, December 6, 2011 10:56PM EST
The founders of a Toronto agency were so struck by what they say is a hidden crisis of Canadian seniors living in poverty, they decided to hold a contest to do something about it.
Peter Cook, who runs Seniors for Seniors, an agency that hires younger seniors to run errands for older seniors, is the mastermind of the contest, along with this wife. A few weeks ago, they put out a call to social workers to nominate needy Toronto-area seniors who could benefit from a prize of $1,000 a month for a year.
The stories they got back were heart-wrenching.
The company has already received dozens of submissions and will announce the "winner" on Friday.
Loucia and Andrew Linkert make up one couple who was nominated for the contest. The couple has been married for almost for three decades, getting by for many years with his work as a jeweller and her work as a truck driver.
But a few years back Loucia, 59, was diagnosed with liver cancer, and then Andrew, 72, had a heart attack and was diagnosed with Parkinson's. They became embroiled in money woes.
These days, the couple survives on pasta and bread.
"We can't afford milk. He should have milk every day," Loucia says of Andrew. "I go to food banks, I try to get food vouchers."
The couple struggles for money every month. After they pay the $1,000 rent and pay for utilities and other expenses, there's little money left for extras. There are months when Andrew can't afford the $50-a-month dispensing fees on his Parkinson's drugs, so he goes without.
"I can't afford it. I am embarrassed, I am hurt and I am mad," he says.
The couple tried taking in a tenant, but the tenants refused to pay their rent and then robbed them of the last of their money.
Cook says he's heard lots of stories like the Linkerts and they provide an awful glimpse into what appears to be a nationwide problem of poverty among seniors.
After many years of success as a businessman, he decided he wanted to give back to those who can't afford services like his and that's why he came up with the contest.
"There is a big hole out there and I don't know how to solve it other than to do what we are doing," Cook says.
Among the other nominations was 67-year-old Ernie Wright. He has Parkinson's disease and early stage dementia. After paying for his apartment, and his medications, he has no money left. His food comes from food banks, or the charity of others.
"It is depressing, to tell the truth. I am not used to that because I always had money in my pocket," Wright says.
"Ernie's finances actually got to four cents," says social worker Sabeen Alam. "I was so concerned about his wellbeing. I said, ‘Four cents? What are you going to do for the next three weeks?' He did not have an answer," she says.
Social worker Josie Di Placito, who works at St. Clair West Services for Seniors, nominated the Linkerts after the homeless shelter where they were living referred them to her.
It's estimated that about 300,000 Canadian seniors live under the poverty line, though it's hard to tell, since many living also fly under the radar, not filing taxes and not seeking help from social services.
Di Placito suspects the numbers of desperately poor seniors is growing because of the financial meltdown of the last few years.
"I know it sounds pessimistic but it is a growing trend, with more seniors," she says. "I feel that it is going to keep getting worse."
Cook says he finds it interesting that there are lots of charities out there that aim to help impoverished children, but none designed to help desperate seniors.
He'd like Canadians to know that there are many deserving seniors who need help in their twilight years.
"They shouldn't be in that position, they shouldn't be in a state of impoverishment where they can't feed themselves, medicate themselves and they have an awful end of life situation," he says.
Seniors for Seniors is not looking for donations, but if you have questions for Peter Cook you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip