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December 8th 2011: Two seniors living in poverty have been selected by a Toronto agency to receive financial support, as part of a contest meant to draw awareness to what the agency calls a hidden Canadian crisis.
Loucia and Andrew Linkert are the winners of $1,000 a month for a year after Peter Cook, who runs Seniors 4 Seniors, an agency that hires younger seniors to run errands for older seniors with his wife, put out a call to social workers to nominate needy Toronto-area seniors.
The Linkerts struggle every month to make ends meet. After they pay the $1,000 rent and pay for utilities and other expenses, there’s not much money left over for extras.
“Hopefully I will be able to get a puffer,” Loucia said. “Oh my God, this is so great.”
She suffers from asthma and bronchitis. Andrew has survived two heart attacks and has Parkinson’s disease.
Cook said the goal of the tragic competition was to bring awareness to a hidden problem — destitute seniors.
“We had so many requests from people offering meals, offering to pay meds, offering cash and setting up charities,” Cook said. “It was overwhelming; we were swamped.”
The second-place winner is an 86-year-old woman who is also living in poverty.
“No funds, no life, no friends and no relatives,” Cook said of the woman.
Cook said the response was so huge, he will spend the next few days trying to get back to all the Canadians from across the country who phoned and emailed. His ultimate hope is to set up a charity targeted to helping needy seniors.
“Do we need a charity for seniors? Looks like we do, looks like we do,” said Cook.
But his competition raises a question.
“I hate that it comes down to that we have to win over someone that loses. What about the people that didn’t win? What about the losers?” said Loucia.
That’s something the workers at the Good Neighbours’ Club in downtown Toronto ask. They offer meals, clothing, and health programs for impoverished seniors.
“On a daily basis I see horrific things, folks at the end of their life struggling to make it,” said Lauro Montiero, who works at the charity centre.
Many of the seniors below the poverty line receive the basic government pensions of about $1,300 a month. They have no additional savings.
“A lot of people are under the misguided notion that people have pensions and that should provide them enough to live on, and the reality is it is not,” Lauro Montiero said.
Raymond Burgess is a 68-year-old volunteer with Good Neighbours’ Club. The biggest expense after rent is food.
Burgess said that “a lot of seniors can’t afford it they go to the grocery stores and that groceries are so expensive. They got their medication to pay.”
It is estimated that about 300,000 Canadian seniors are living under the poverty line, though it’s hard to know for sure, since many fly under the radar, not filing taxes and not seeking help.
“It should not be a matter of charity; it should be a basic right to live in dignity. There are opportunities to fix this,” said Susan Eng from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
“Governments can increase their income supports, they can reduce our expenses, and they can make our services easier to get to.”
It is estimated that one-third of the baby boom generation will not have enough income for retirement. Falling equity markets have diminished investment returns and Canadians are living longer and fewer have pension plans.
© CTV News