New United Way funding to help Niagara seniors who have ‘fallen through the cracks’

Jan 19, 2020 by Kris Dube The Welland Tribune
Many seniors in the region struggle to pay for basic needs such as eyeglasses, walkers and hearing aids.

But a new fund for the aging population is about to slightly change this scenario, said Tamara Coleman-Lawrie, United Way Niagara director of community impact.

For several years, United Way was able to disperse financial assistance to individuals through the generosity of Clara Crawford, a St. Catharines woman who left a legacy fund for the nonprofit organization to help seniors pay for health, medical and well-being costs.

That fund, which handed out $5,000 each year, has been depleted.

A grant received through the David S. Howes Fund and Niagara Community Foundation will allow United Way to put $20,000 annually from 2020 to 2022 into the pockets of struggling seniors who don’t have access to government benefits, or don’t receive enough to get by.

In the past, the funding stayed in St. Catharines, but the revamped program will support individuals all across Niagara.

“We’re constantly inundated with calls with respect to helping seniors — and we were unable to support them,” said Coleman-Lawrie said, explaining the $5,000 annual sum would be swallowed up halfway through the calendar year.

“You would be surprised, how many seniors, for those basic care needs, are falling through the cracks.”

The previous fund helped about 30 seniors each year. The extra $15,000 will support up to 150 more with “anything that might support their overall well-being,” said Coleman-Lawrie.

Community partners such as Niagara Region public health, Niagara Poverty Reduction Network and local optometrists will help promote the funding availability with eligible seniors, she said.

There is also a “super-simple” application available on United Way Niagara’s website, or by calling 905-688-5050 ext. 2115.

A letter of reference from a social service worker or representative from a support agency is a requirement. Applications will be received starting Feb. 3.

John Meguerian, president of the Niagara chapter of the Canadian Association for Retired People (CARP), said it’s important to keep medical needs of seniors a priority. His advocacy organization is fighting for increases to government benefits such as old age security and guaranteed income supplement, as well as a provincial dental program for the elderly.

Currently, 22 per cent of Niagara’s population is 65 and older, and is expected to increase to about 37 per cent within the next three to five years, Meguerian said.

“That’s why it’s on everybody’s radar to have these discussions about elder care.” .

CARP doesn’t provide direct supports for seniors but goes to bat for them through provincial and federal politicians to ensure the services they need are in place.