This year marks four decades that the N.D.G. Senior Citizens’ Council has served the most vulnerable people in N.D.G. and Montreal West.
“One of the big changes for the organization is that we are now serving people in their 50s,” said the Council’s director Sheri McLeod, now in her 25th year with the organization. “It used to be people over 70. These are very low-income people not receiving pensions.”
In 1972, the N.D.G. Community Council held a quality-of-life seminar. A workshop was given on “the lives of retired persons” and marked the beginning of what would become the N.D.G. Senior Citizens’ Council in 1975. The council’s mission statement was expanded to include the younger clients in 2009. “Before there was no organization that would serve them,” McLeod explained.
Services had to be adapted, such as Action Transport, which matches volunteer drivers with people who have medical appointments. “Those who come to us to use this service are often critically ill, with high medical needs,” McLeod said, explaining that originally the service had been designed for occasional rides.
Forty years ago, most of the people the Council served were of British origin, reflecting the demographic of N.D.G. at the time. “Now we have a very diverse membership, 30 cultural groups, including people from Iran, China, Germany and Hungary.” Four years ago, the organization eliminated the $15 membership fee, which many were unable to pay.
“The organization has responded by becoming more inclusive,” McLeod said. “We really opened up in terms of looking at the different groups and what they wanted. We became much more aware of the difference between boomers and seniors.”
McLeod said some of the most isolated people are in the younger group and that a crisis leading to a downward spiral can happen to anyone. “Maybe they have a health crisis, or a number of them, and once they lose their job, trying to get another is very very difficult. They may develop self-medicating addictions and have no social support.”
McLeod said the economic downturn has left people struggling and that those most affected are not bilingual. “They are anglophones with minimal French skills and minimal technology skills.”
Programs include a Boomer Café, in partnership with the N.D.G. Food Depot. The program has a strong educational component, with participants discussing topics ranging from budgeting to tenants’ rights. It provides opportunities to socialize, with tickets to restaurants, the theatre and other activities “that many people are able to do but are excluded from because of their low income level.”
The Day Away program serves many clients who are over 90 and living alone, like Madeleine Major: “I feel I am among good friends.”
The Council advocates for seniors politically as well, McLeod said. “We try to address policy issues that affect the older population. We are very concerned about access to Guaranteed Income Supplement. If people don’t do their taxes, they are not informed.” Another concern is the increased difficulty in applying for their Old Age Security. “People who have not lived in Canada their entire lives are asked to find old passports, and leases. They’re putting more and more
obstacles in the way.”
McLeod says, “What has improved in general is the standard of living. Over the past 40 years, there is a smaller percentage of poor elderly people. But people are poorer, poverty is at a deeper level.”
The NDGSCC operates in N.D.G. and Montreal West. 514-487-1311, ndgscc.ca.