BANFF – Many seniors and people with disabilities are being forced to leave Banff due to limited access to appropriate housing.
The newly-formed Banff Inclusive Housing Committee (BIHC) is advocating for future development of new accommodations and additional services for seniors and people with disabilities.
Committee members say up to 25 people have moved to Canmore’s Spring Creek and others have moved outside the Bow Valley because there is not enough appropriate housing, whether public or private.
They say some individuals that applied for affordable housing did not qualify to live in Ti’nu affordable housing, for example, because their income was not sufficient, while others were ruled out for Mount Edith House as their income was too high.
“It is heartbreaking; cast aside, that’s how they feel,” said BIHC chair Karen Thomas during a recent Banff town council meeting.
“Is this what we want for people who have given their life’s work and energy to our community?”
The Town of Banff wants to learn about the current housing situation for people who are 60 years old and over, and is seeking their opinions about housing needs in Banff through an online survey, which closes July 14.
The input from this survey will be compiled along with other information on seniors housing needs such as the Bow Valley Regional Housing needs assessment, and the 2018 and 2020 Banff housing surveys.
The goal is to create a snapshot of current housing and potential future needs for seniors.
“I do believe this is a rising issue that candidates and new candidates for mayor and council will want to consider,” said Councillor Ted Christensen.
BIHC also wants Banff town council to consider making Banff an age-friendly community, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 to promote a more thoughtful approach to the health and well-being of the aging population.
There are are more than 1,400 communities working to become age-friendly in Canada. Calgary, Edmonton, Strathcona County, Lethbridge, Glenwood, Hill Spring and Cardston County have been recognized in Alberta as age-friendly.
An additional eight communities are participating members, including the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Innisfail, Cochrane, Okotoks, Chestermere, Olds, Cold Lake and Rocky Mountain House.
The WHO has identified eight markers to help make communities more age-friendly – outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, and community support and health services.
“Investing in these concepts will act as a catalyst for change and make us a stronger community,” Thomas said.
“Our committee’s focus is appropriate housing and strengthening support systems for this group.”
Sharon Phillips, a member of BIHC, said there are many ways to help keep seniors in their homes, such as grocery deliveries, transportation options or housekeeping and home-care to name a few.
“A lot of seniors who are leaving Banff aren’t looking for medical services; they’re just looking for accessible homes, they’re looking for participation in the community,” she said. “All they really want is to stay in Banff.”
Banff is a leader on the world stage of tourism, but BIHC members say the community must now play catch-up as places like Thailand undertake extensive research on the importance of being recognized as age-friendly post-COVID-19.
“Housing is but one part of what is necessary to be a wholesome and inclusive community,” Thomas said.
“Our committee believes an age-friendly community is the next step to keeping the wealth of experience and commitment of our older population within our community and in re-opening to the world.”
In addition, BIHC is working towards raising issues and challenges faced by people with disabilities.
Longtime local J.P. Middleton, who is also member of the committee, was involved in a skiing accident in 2018 that resulted in a spinal cord injury. Without the use of his lower body, he is wheelchair-bound.
“What I’ve come to realize is life in a wheelchair is a series of never-ending inconveniences and challenges, though I take each experience with a great deal of positivity,” he said.
Middleton spoke to the challenges of navigating the town’s roads, sidewalks, restaurants, shops and offices, noting about half of the downtown buildings have steps into or within, making them inaccessible to wheelchairs.
“The social impact of this is huge on me – rolling downtown and seeing our shops and restaurants, seeing people enjoying a rooftop patio that I can’t access, not being able to get into a shop with my kids,” he said.
“There’s certainly room for improvement in our infrastructure that would make things a lot easier for wheelchair users and those with disabilities.”
Snow and icy sidewalks also make it extremely difficult for Middleton to get around town, including rolling in his wheelchair with his children to school or daycare.
“My four-inch casters for wheels at the front of my wheelchair are prone to getting stuck,” he said. “That can result in a quick deceleration, which has thrown me out of my chair a handful of times.”
Council has directed administration to work with BIHC and return no later than September with a report outlining ways in which the Town of Banff can support the committee’s work.
“We will commit to meeting with the committee to see if we can help in any way or see if there’s ways we can work together on this initiative,” said Town Manager Kelly Gibson.