Are local seniors being left behind?

I’ve had encounters with two people in the last week that have really got me thinking.

One is a little more distressing than the other, so I’ll save that for last.

The first is kind of humorous, though I don’t doubt the individual’s sincerity.

I don’t remember his name right now, scribbled as it is on one of the notepads floating around my desk, but he was a gruff old guy, wanting to talk to the editor.

It seems “Stephen Harper,” as in the federal government, had finally given him a raise in his old-age pension, the first he’d seen in a couple of years – or more.

He now gets, from the federal government, a whole extra two bucks and change. A month.

Here’s the perversity about it, and it really makes me wonder what the hell we’re doing to our old people – and more importantly, it makes me wonder if I even want to get old in the first place.

It seems whatever provincial subsidy he gets from the Province of Ontario – or “Jim Wilson,” he barked – was promptly clawed back with his increase in his old-age pension. Not only was it clawed back, but the province actually took one or two bucks extra, for good measure.

When he came into my office – keeping in mind that a newspaper is not a social agency – he was intent on giving back the raise he’d receive from the feds, as he’d be better off without it than with it.

The second senior to come through my office door is having a problem paying her Collus bill – and probably a few other bills, as well. It was to the point that Collus was sending around someone with a collections letter, which means that whatever she owes, another $33.50 is being added. By the time she came to talk to me, she showed me an accounting of her transactions with Collus, a list that now included about about five of those charges in the last several months.

Now, it complicates things because she doesn’t own the house, nor is the electricity in her name – though she’s lived in the place for 20 years.

Anyway, she received a collections notice in the name of the homeowner, a family member, about a week-and-a-half ago. Then she received another one, in her own name, about two or three days later. On Monday morning, at 8 a.m., she got yet another letter from Collus, and was pretty much convinced her entire pension cheque for August was going to be needed to pay the bill or face losing her electricity. She called me absolutely in tears – which ticked me off enough that I called up Collus prez Ed Houghton and left a pretty stern message (sorry, Ed!). The way she was looking at it, Collus had just dropped another $100 on her, on top of the $300 or $400 she already owes – with no hope that she’ll ever get on top of it.

I spoke to Collus’ treasurer Tim Fryer later on Monday, and he assured me only one of the letters was a collections letter. He also said she could pay what she could afford, that Collus wasn’t going to cut her off. Tim’s pretty sympathetic, and very familiar with the customer – he’s been trying to work with her for the last two decades, to help her get her bills under control.

Collus is in a spot. Afterall, after they collect money from us, they have to turn around and pay the companies for the electricity used in Collingwood. Collus tries to run a pretty tight ship, too, which is why they were able to cut the price they charge for electricity distribution, even as the price of hydro – along with the introduction of the H.S.T. – goes ever higher.

But that doesn’t help the woman who’s just left a tearful voicemail for me.

So in the end, it has me thinking. Yeah, there’s a lot of wealth in this community, and the 55+ crowd moving here from points elsewhere have a pretty comfortable existence. But increasingly, there’s also a group of seniors who can’t afford to live here, can’t afford to live in the homes they’ve spent most of their lives in, can’t afford the monthly bills that arrive in the mailbox.

When the topic of price increases in municipal services comes to the council table, few seem to pay attention; the only ones who come to mind to express any kind of concern have been Mike Edwards and Ian Chadwick.

In probably the most out-of-touch comment that I’ve ever heard come out of a councillor’s mouth, Councillor Dave Labelle, when the issue of increases in sewer and water fees came up, suggested people could ‘tip more’ when they went to the bar so low-income earners could afford the rate hikes.

It’s tough for a lot of people out there right now, but it isn’t seen. Most people deal with poverty in silence – and thanks to folks like Mike Harris, the stigma of having to go cap-in-hand to government is just too big for a lot of people to overcome.

I wish I had an answer…

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