The South Vancouver Neighbourhood House and Vancouver Coastal Health have teamed up with Langara’s financial aid office to connect students with seniors for the past five years but not many students know about the Seniors Link program.
Students in need of extra cash can help seniors in the southeast community with light housecleaning, laundry, gardening, yard work, pet care, shopping or even computer help for $10.25 per hour for a minimum of two hours.
Student helpers are referred by financial aid at Langara College to the neighbourhood house. Then the neighbourhood house connects each student to a senior for an interview. The right candidate lands the job.
Screening for the right candidate
Program director Eric Lau said, “The seniors will want to know if you can speak other languages to communicate more effectively.”
He said the program has been successful but an interview process is necessary if the student wants the job.
Lau explained that language needs are not mandatory but valued. “A lot of the seniors wanting help are Punjabi or Chinese speaking.”
The program was implemented in response to seniors asking for cheaper transportation after the Minister of Health closed off home support in 2003-04, Lau said.
The aid level depends on the senior’s affordability level, he said. Most only make $13,000 a year which includes guaranteed income supplement and old age security. “They can only hire one student once per month.”
Lau adds that seniors making over $28,000 can usually afford to hire someone every two weeks.
Joan Wright, transportation coordinator at the neighbourhood house, said she found a similar student/senior help program in Victoria and was very successful so decided to bring it to Vancouver.
“[We] can’t be taking everyone,” said Wright. “The screening program [needs to be] more rigid.”
Factors like punctuality and reliability are very important said Wright. “Students need to understand seniors’ values and their own values.”
Transportation issue for seniors
Lau said transportation has been a huge issue for seniors in the southeast Vancouver neighbourhood.
According to the 2006 BC Census data, of Vancouver’s electoral districts, Vancouver-Fraserview has among the highest number of dependent children and seniors, especially seniors living with relatives.
Lau said, “Not enough funding is available to provide transportation services to seniors.”
He added there is a liability issue when seniors are driven and it’s better if students just accompany the seniors through HandyDART, a transportation program for passengers with cognitive disabilities who need assistance to use public transit.
Anna Wright, a senior in the neighbourhood, uses HandyDART and she finds “transportation is good,” especially when handling her manual walker. “I can only walk eight to 10 minutes at a time.”
Lau said: “[We are] trying to keep the services simple. Funding for [transportation] is needed and we don’t expect the students to chauffeur the seniors around.”
The Seniors Hub provides transportation services to some seniors in the area but run on three main routes. According to their website, it’s not enough when there’s an estimate of 16,000 seniors who need adequate transportation.
Lau said the seniors need rides for medical help, food services, family services. “Some are still working and some just like to travel and explore but that requires transportation.”
Wright said a new screening process for the Seniors Link program is being implemented and will be ready by January 2014.
For now, students can sign up by filling out an online application form.
Reported by Deanna Cheng and Puneet Dhami