Location: New Westminster, BC
Organization Summary: Seniors Services Society of BC (SSSBC) is a non-profit organization that connects adults age 60 and older to housing and supports that help them age well and thrive including seniors who are homeless or at-risk. With over 30 years of experience in the community-based seniors’ services (CBSS) sector, the organization is on the leading edge of the response to population aging in British Columbia. SSSBC combines housing navigation and support services in an approach that is one-of-a-kind in BC.
Program Details: Seniors Services Society of BC (SSSBC) has a mission to connect adults 60+ with individual supports and housing navigation services to enhance their lives. Their vision is a community where seniors live with dignity in safe, comfortable, and healthy home and their values include respect, dignity, acceptance, inclusion, integrity, and trust. SSSBC serves and supports seniors age 60+. Many of their clients face multiple barriers to housing, experience the loss of a loved one, have low fixed incomes and/or financial stress, have limited social networks. Many are single, renters, and/or victims of violence, abuse, and ageism. They all have the ability to live independently with appropriate supports.
SSSBC was incorporated in February 2006 from an amalgamation of the Seniors Housing Information Program Society and Western Society for Seniors Citizens Services. Since then, SSSBC has developed and offered a number of programs and services to support seniors in a variety of ways. Their Housing services include housing information and referral, seniors housing navigation, outreach, a Temporary Housing Program and a Homelessness Prevention Program. SSSBC also runs a Meals on Wheels program, a community van, and Better at Home services, including light housekeeping, grocery shopping, medical transportation, and support calls. Their Support services are delivered to vulnerable seniors across New Westminster and their Housing services cover the entire Lower Mainland (excluding Downtown Eastside).
SSSBC developed and runs the SHINE (Seniors Housing Information and Navigation Ease) program, which assists seniors throughout the entire process in navigating the housing support system. The also run the Seniors Mental Health and Addiction Provincial Service Directory, the Westminster House Society’s Virtual Addiction Recovery Program (for senior women in New Westminster), and represent the local Community Response Network (as part of BCCRN) in New Westminster.
“SSSBC is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. We have 13 full- and part-time staff and a dedicated team of 80+ volunteers to support the work we do”, says Alison Sigardo, CEO of SSSBC.
Funding from BC Housing, Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and the Ministry of Health, as well as our charitable donations and fundraising efforts allow SSSBC to continue to operate and grow their programs.
Strengths: SSSBC is a leader in issues around population aging in BC and has a one-of-a-kind service portfolio in the province. They are the only dedicated seniors housing outreach team in Metro Vancouver and their Temporary Housing Program is the only one of its kind in Canada.
SSSBC has had much success in developing partnerships with several Ministries, policy makers, the municipal government, housing providers, and with other seniors services in the community. This allows them to contribute to the continuum of services in the community, in an informal way (as there is currently no integrated system). Their partnerships are a source of real strength. For example, partnering with housing providers allows SSSBC to quickly access assets and resources, such as housing units, that they do not own.
Last year, they developed a Solutions Lab: a one-year project to create actionable solutions to seniors affordable housing crisis. This project resulted in meaningful partnerships including the “Seniors Supportive Housing Collaborative” initiative and in the advocacy for a Ministry of Seniors at provincial level.
“We are very grateful to have a fantastic team of volunteers. We also engage students through internships and practicums. These groups greatly contribute to our capacity to do the work we do”, says Alison.
Challenges: A key challenge faced by SSSBC is the increased demand for their services. There is an increasing number of seniors at risk of homelessness due to private housing market in the Lower Mainland and as per the 2020 Homeless Count, an increasing number of seniors age 55+ in the homeless population.
Despite the increase in demand, SSSBC has limited capacity: they currently have waitlists for support services, housing outreach services, and the Temporary Housing program. SSSBC receives about 2,000 to 14,000 calls a year from those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness but are only able to respond about half. Alison says that more consistent funding for staffing is needed in order to respond to the demand.
Another challenging has been developing the connection between services in multiple sectors (i.e., health, housing, community services, mental health and addictions) in the absence of an integrated system for seniors in the province.
Adaptions to program due to COVID-19: SSSBC has had to work through new COVID-related challenges, particularly fluctuations in their volunteer base and an increase in need for services such as support calls, meal delivery, and grocery shopping. Many of their volunteers are seniors themselves and so have been encouraged to stay home during COVID-19.
SSSBC has responded to the pandemic by adapting their services and programs in various ways. Their responses have prioritized flexibility, particularly in reimagining how services for vulnerable seniors can be delivered and how reshaping housing-related programs can result in improvements in the field.Some employees are now working from home and SSSBC has increased virtual outreach, although, they do continue to provide in-person services. To accommodate for in-person meetings, they have rearranged their office space based on new safety protocols and have a dedicated meeting room set up, with strict hygiene, PPE, and cleaning protocols in place and contact tracing for any visitors.
In responding to the challenges associated with COVID-19, SSSBC was able to secure new funding opportunities to increase seniors’ digital literacy and mental health/wellness. Their Solutions Lab project was extended beyond its one-year expected timeline. They have created new recruiting activities to diversify their volunteer base and engage younger individuals.
Program Impact: To see just a small piece of the impact that SSSBC has had in its community, please watch Georgiana’s story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUq232yRAlA