It was easy to spot 82-year-old Ginette Hodgson at the Rock Bay Landing homeless shelter.
She sat at the back of the lunchroom with her purse clutched to her chest and her back against the wall. A man beside her rolled a joint, while others slept hunched over tables around the room.
For the past month, Hodgson has been living in a shared room at the downtown shelter because she has nowhere else to go. “I came back to Canada to stay and to die. I wanted my final years to be here,” said Hodgson, who lived on a partial old-age pension in Mexico for the past few years.
Born in Toronto, she spent years living out of the country, and returned to Canada just over a month ago hoping to collect her pension and find a home. “But there’s nothing I can afford. It’s hopeless,” Hodgson said. “I just need a quiet place near the shops, not much. I can’t stay here.”
Hodgson is eligible for a basic old age security pension at a maximum of $550 a month. She could also be eligible for a guaranteed monthly income supplement of up to $700, but needs to catch up on two years of taxes.
Shelter workers said at her age, Hodgson needs to be in supportive or assisted housing, but could be waiting months or even years for a spot.
Don McTavish, manager of shelters for the Cool Aid Society — which runs the shelter — said Hodgson’s situation is not unique.
“We are seeing a lot more seniors than ever before and most of them have never been homeless,” McTavish said. “They’re usually on a fixed income, if they have an income at all.”
According to a recent Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness report on patterns of homelessness, seniors are disproportionately more likely to use emergency shelters over an extended period.
Hodgson was a little foggy on the details of her life, which she attributed to a failing memory. She married once and had a son, but left him in foster care when he was five and has been travelling since, working for many years as a draftswoman in the U.S., South Pacific and Central America.
For the past few years, she has lived on a few hundred dollars a month in Puerto Vallarta.
She hopes to rekindle a relationship with her son and his family, who live in Sidney. “I won’t ask them for anything. I’ll get a place and they can visit if they choose,” she said.
McTavish said the shelter isn’t the best place for someone Hodgson’s age. “We might have 100 people here on mats on a night with three or four staff,” he said, noting the shelter has another room of men in their 70s and 80s.
Cool Aid’s Emma Cochrane has been working to find Hodgson housing, but says it’s a long process. Hodgson could qualify for assisted living, but the assessment process alone will take another month. Then she would be placed on a wait-list. “Some people have been on it for over two years,” Cochrane said.
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