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Better housing, transportation options key to keeping older residents in Woolwich, says report

The ability to stay in the community as they age, with access to necessary services, tops the priority list of older residents, according to a new report from the Age-Friendly Woolwich Advisory Committee.

The group presented its findings this week to township councillors, who accepted the report but weren’t ready for a wholesale embrace of its recommendations. Housing, transportation and access to services are the top priorities for Woolwich’s seniors, though many of these issues aren’t within the control or budgetary reach of the municipality.

Still, the committee would like the township to adopt what it calls an age-friendly lens for future decisions, from planning and development to the offering of recreation services.

“The goal is to make Woolwich a great place to grow old,” committee member Linda Snyder told councillors meeting Tuesday night.

To that end, the committee sees a future in which older residents are supported to age in place in their community by having access to personal care, health services, mental health services, nutritious meals and food related support, community dining, homemaking services, exercise programs, home maintenance and adaptation, yard work services, transportation services, day programs, hospice and end of life support and caregiver support.

It’s a wide scope.

Acknowledging that aspect, Cathy Harrington, executive director of Community Care Concepts and a member of the group’s steering committee, said the aging population and need for services is already outstripping the supply.

“The demands are increasing at a much greater pace than we can keep up with,” she said.

In polling seniors about what they’d like to see – via group sessions, public meetings and online, for instance – there’s a particular need for housing and transportation options, she added. Moreover, people want to live within easy access, perhaps walking distance, of amenities such as shopping and services such as medical care.

“People wanted access to more,” she said of the responses garnered by the committee.

Fueled by a real sense of belonging to a community, with ties to family, friends and neighbours, people want to stay in the township, said Snyder.

The wish-list of requirements to do that seemed a little daunting to council, however.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan took a cautionary approach to the recommendations, asking the delegates about the group’s expectations of council’s role.

“What are your assumptions about what the township can do? Did you have assumptions … going into this [process] about what comes next?”

His reservations were shared by Coun. Mark Bauman, who was careful to note council accepting the report wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of its recommendations, joking that they shouldn’t get the impression that “anything you ask for, you will receive.”

From grocery stores within walking distance to more transit (both public and specialized such as Kiwanis Transit), some of the long list of improvements recommended fall outside of Woolwich’s reach.

The foundation of the report, the Age-Friendly Community Plan, is the World Health Organization’s eight dimensions of what makes a place age-friendly:

  1. Outdoor spaces and public buildings are pleasant, clean, secure and physically accessible.
  2. Public transportation is accessible and affordable.
  3. Housing is affordable, appropriately located, well built, well designed and secure.
  4. There are opportunities for seniors to participate in leisure, social, cultural and spiritual activities with people of all ages and cultures.
  5. Older people are treated with respect and are included in civic life.
  6. There are opportunities for employment and volunteerism that cater to older persons’ interests and abilities
  7. Age-friendly communication and information is available.
  8. Community support and health is tailored to older persons’ needs.
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