A road that began with disillusionment wound its way to Salmon Arm and to gratitude.
Sean Sands was once a physician practicing in Ontario. He developed cancer and became discouraged with the profession. He became disillusioned with the idea of people getting well through pharmaceuticals.
“I thought, what am I doing?” he explained. “It took the cancer to motivate me to get out of that… I trained all my life to be in that profession. It’s hard to leave if you have nothing to go to. When I left that lifestyle and began to be more physical, more basic, more simple living in nature, the symptoms and signs of any disease disappeared.”
He then spent many years in the wilderness, building his own houses and gardening.
“My conclusion after a career in medicine was, what do you really need to be happy and healthy? Good food – the best food you can get is by growing it, or buy it locally, what’s fresh and whole. Low cost housing or shelter. And some sort of purpose.”
He came to Salmon Arm about a dozen years ago and didn’t expect to stay. But he did. He is fortunate to have now been in the same relatively low-cost, one-bedroom apartment for at least 10 years. He gets a government payment as well as a SAFER grant for low-income seniors, which helps with the rent.
Sands doesn’t own a vehicle so has avoided the cost of repairs, fuel and maintenance. He loves to walk and takes the bus when needed.
Now in his early eighties, Sands picks up food for his neighbour who he said is incapacitated and diabetic, and he finds food for himself.
“I find there’s overwhelming abundance – I have to be careful about consuming too much.”
He is vegetarian so eats primarily fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. He gleans what he can and also goes to the food bank. If he sees walnuts, apples and plums abandoned in a yard, he will ask permission to go in and glean.
Sands has a memory challenge since developing a seizure disorder in 2008, so he has gone to the Seniors Resource Centre in the past for assistance. He said a person there will help with a variety of paperwork.
Staff in the thrift stores are always friendly and generous, he added.
“The all-churches thrift store is a tremendous resource. Any of my household needs, kitchen needs, furniture needs, it’s usually available at a very reasonable price. Anything I don’t need I bring back to there. Clothing is very available.”
Asked if he thinks Salmon Arm offers enough social connections for people who are older, he said he hasn’t explored that to a great degree. He’s aware of the 5th Avenue 50 Plus Activity Centre, where different activities are offered.
“Walking is my entertainment. The different nature trails are just beautiful.”
Asked if winter is a struggle, he said no.
“There are occasional times where I would stay indoors for wet snow or too much ice on the hilly parts of the roadway – I take caution at those times.”
He speaks of his gratitude for being in Salmon Arm.
“Paradise presents with the small city, the vista with the mountains not being so close that you’re crowded or overwhelmed by them but they’re beautiful in the distance.”
He points to the beauty of the lake and nature trails.
“Relative peace in the community rather than struggle and violence and so on. It’s really a wonderful place to be.”
Sands said gratitude has been an evolutionary process, making mistakes and having consequences, learning from those consequences and changing.
He thinks Salmon Arm does a lot to meet people’s needs.
“All this is relative to what you’re comparing with.”
He acknowledged that times are definitely changing with shelter and food prices increasing so dramatically.
But he notes food is available and perhaps the lack of housing is an indication of the need to downsize, smaller homes for more people and less accumulation of belongings.
He points to somewhere like the city of Shanghai with 30 million people. Or 10 people living in a single room somewhere.
Or people in Ethiopia, starving to death in a war situation.
It helps to have “an attitude of gratitude,” he says.
Lack of food, housing are common issues for seniors
Patti Thurston sees many people, particularly senior women, who are struggling to find accommodation and afford food.
Executive director of the Shuswap Family Centre, Thurston said a large buy-up of rental housing throughout the region in the spring of 2022 left a number of people with 60 days’ notice to find housing.
“It’s seniors. We have a senior living in her car.”
Men may be less likely to ask for help, she said. But people come in to the centre for food, some who are very isolated.
“There’s isolation, fear and shame.”
Monica Kriese, coordinator with the Salmon Arm and Area Community Response Network, has also noticed a growing trend of seniors needing food support, with more people going to food banks and free lunch programs.
She also notes: “Many of those that volunteer at the free meal programs are seniors too and they are feeling the pinch of the price of groceries for the meals they make for these programs…”
Like Thurston, Kriese also refers to the shortage of housing, and seniors being forced to move out of rentals. Transportation can also be a struggle.
Jane Shirley, executive director with the SAFE Society, says many issues have amplified since Covid.
“Cost of living and lack of suitable affordable housing often has seniors continue to live in unsafe environments, whether that be with an abusive family member, partner or landlord.”
Katherine Kreller, senior advisor at the Seniors’ Resource Centre at 320 Second Ave. NE in Salmon Arm, helps seniors navigate paper work, including the SAFER (Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters) and other programs.
“In my experience a lot of people don’t know what they’re entitled to,” she said, noting also that people over 70 don’t always have a computer or aren’t always computer savvy.
As well, some people aren’t aware of the many programs offered by the centre and other organizations, she said.
Kreller also investigates where to find less expensive options.
“Why should hearing aids be so expensive when people have the most limited amount of money they’ve ever had in their lives?” she asks.
That’s a problem she’s currently investigating.
“I think seniors are a bit forgotten… They deserve attention from our society and I don’t think they’re getting it.”
Looking for resources in Salmon Arm and the Shuswap?
Asking for help can be hard, but a community of support is available. Below are some services available to you. Also, if you’d like to help, many organizations can use volunteers.
Seniors Resource Centre
Offers information and referrals to services, as well as a number of programs and services such as meal programs, volunteer run drivers’ programs, information about seniors programs and services such as pensions, income supplements, old age security, tax help and activities. Call 250-832-7000 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seniors Mental Health
Interior Health program to support older adults with mental health disorders and issues related to aging, including dementia. Services include assessment, treatment, community supports, case management and caregiver support. Located at: Salmon Arm Health Centre, 851 16 St. NE. Call 250-833-4100.
Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL)
Information and referral line providing intake for legal and victim service programs and assistance for older adults. Call 604-437-1940, toll-free 1-866-437-1940. TTY 604-428-3359, TTY toll-free 1-855-306-1443.
Shuswap Better at Home
A program that helps seniors with tasks by coordinating simple, non-medical services to support seniors to stay in their homes living independently. Services include light house and yard work, snow removal, transportation to appointments, grocery shopping and friendly visits. Go to: www.shuswapbetterathome.ca Call 250-253-2749.
5th Avenue 50 Plus Seniors’ Activity Centre
The centre provides many daily activities, lunches and more designed to meet the physical and social needs of senior members of the community and surrounding area, 170 5th Ave. Call 250-832-1065.
Crisis and Information Lines
Sometimes people need immediate support or resources. Did you know that British Columbia provides phone lines for a range of issues? These services are free, confidential and can help you identify resources for your situation.
BC211 – Free, confidential, 24/7 support finding resources in more than 150 languages. Dial 2-1-1.
8-1-1 – Free provincial health information phone service – Dial 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for deaf and hard of hearing).
310 Mental Health Support – For emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health. Call 310-6789 (no area code needed).
Crisis Support – 1-800-SUICIDE if you are considering suicide or are concerned someone you know may be.
Crisis Line - Call 1-888-353-CARE (2273).
Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 for access to a counsellor 24 hours a day.
KUU-S (Indigenous Crisis Line) – 1-800-588-8717.
This is the fourth and final segment in a bi-weekly series on poverty, its effects and services available. It is in conjunction with a campaign by the City of Salmon Arm and its Social Impact Advisory Committee to address poverty and help ensure residents know where to find resources.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our daily newsletter.