Last year was extremely hard for Gary Austin.
“I’m on CPP disability, and I didn’t have enough money,” said the local senior. “I had to choose between rent, food and medication.”
After dealing with serious health issues, he underwent a number of operations, as well as chemotherapy, and needless to say, he was unable to work.
That’s when he was connected with the Seniors’ Advocacy Services at SOS (formerly the Seniors’ Connection program).
Dawn Barry, the program co-ordinator, was able to provide support to Austin through the crisis so he could get his medication and still have money for food.
“It made a huge difference,” Austin said. “Dawn makes a huge difference in people’s lives. She is comfortable to talk to, she speaks from the heart and she doesn’t sugar-coat anything.”
SOS Seniors’ Advocacy Services is free and supports seniors aged 60 and older in School District 69 (Qualicum). The program began in 2006 and is being highlighted during SOS’ 50th anniversary year. The majority of funding for SOS programs and services comes from the SOS Thrift Shop and community donations.
Clients of Seniors’ Advocacy Services meet one-on-one with Barry, who provides information, emergency assistance, advocacy and referrals. The program also helps local seniors access government programs and services, apply for benefits, and fill out paperwork.
“A lot of seniors are unaware of government benefits, or other services that they could potentially access to ease their burden and make life a little more comfortable,” said Barry. “Others might need help filling out paperwork after a spouse has passed away or assistance navigating our health care system. We work toward finding solutions to any concern they might have.”
Last year there were 1,951 client contacts in the program, and an average of 22 appointments per month. The program also provided assistance in emergency situations 123 times last year.
Austin said there are a lot of local seniors on fixed incomes and the program is invaluable for them.
“I think that if the program wasn’t around there would be a lot more people out there suffering more than they already are,” he said.
“I’d like to thank SOS from the bottom of my heart for being there for people like me.”
Austin said he’s feeling much better these days and can’t wait to get back to work, although it’s not as easy as it once was.
“Every day I wake up and think, ‘OK, today is going to be the day I get a job.’ But it’s not that easy in Parksville. You are either too old or too overqualified.”
Austin remains optimistic however, as he said he is feeling good, and is thankful to be able to concentrate his energy on getting a job.