Legion moves a step closer to housing seniors

David Laxton is designing the seniors’ complex of his dreams. He envisions a place that he would want to live when he turns 75.

David Laxton is designing the seniors’ complex of his dreams.

He envisions a place that he would want to live when he turns 75.

It’s a place with single bedrooms and common spaces for playing cards and making crafts.

It’s a place where the sheets are always clean and there’s a hot meal waiting on the table at dinnertime.

And it’s a place where seniors can be independent, while, at the same time, be surrounded by a supportive community.

As the Whitehorse Legion’s second vice-president, Laxton has been collaborating on designs for a new supportive-care facility in the city that would make these visions a reality for local seniors.

And recently, the sale of the Legion building on Alexander Street to the l’Association franco-yukonnaise, has taken the organization one step closer to realizing that goal.

“The sale of the building is a milestone in the development of our senior housing project,” Laxton said last week.

The Legion has been working with the Elks Lodge on the project for the past two years.

It wanted to move forward sooner, but knew it couldn’t cover the costs of maintaining both buildings.

Now it plans to put the cash from the sale towards its proposed $6.5-million seniors’ facility, a project currently dubbed Regina House (after the Regina Hotel that used to be on the Riverview Hotel’s property).

The sum covers the cost of buying a property, renovating and some operating costs.

Future operating costs will be covered by rents.

The Legion is not disclosing how much l’Association franco-yukonnaise paid for the building.

But even with the new cash from the sale, the Legion is still about $2 million short.

Why?

It’s trying to keep rental prices in the facility affordable for seniors and has set a cap of $1,800 a month, which includes everything except a private telephone line.

“We could set the rental prices higher so we could afford a larger mortgage, but that wouldn’t make it affordable to the majority of people,” said Laxton.

Monthly rent for a supportive living home, like the one the Legion plans to build, can run tenants more than $2,800 in places like Vancouver.

“We don’t want to go there and that’s why we’re trying to find some money and support from the government,” said Laxton.

Currently, the Legion is working with Yukon Housing Corporation and the government of Yukon to cover the shortfall.

When built, this facility would be the first of its kind in the Yukon, said Laxton.

It would be geared toward senior seniors — the over 75 crowd.

And it has a waiting market in the Yukon.

In 1991, 9.3 per cent of the population was 55 or older. In 2005 the number climbed to 18.8 per cent, according to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics.

And the 55-plus age group has steadily increased every year for the past 14 years despite the fact that the territory’s total population has both increased and decreased.

The proposed facility, dubbed a supportive-living centre, will fall somewhere in between independent living and an extended-care facility.

So seniors can live by themselves with a little bit of support.

The plans call for 41 single units, 37 of which are wheelchair accessible, and four double units, which can be used by couples or restructured into singles.

It will also have two elevators.

“It will allow a person to live independently while raising their quality of life and self esteem,” said Laxton.

There will be no on-site medical staff but, if a resident needs homecare, aides could come into the complex.

Each room would have a bed and small kitchenette, and residents would share access to common spaces like activity rooms, a library, computer room and gardening beds.

“If a grandfather wants to go down with his grandchildren and build birdhouses, there’ll be a place for them to do that and the tools to do it with,” said Laxton.

“And if someone’s in to quilting there would be a room where they could set up their quilting supplies.”

The Legion plans to have a public restaurant on one side of the kitchen and a senior’s dining hall on the other.

It will also move its lounge into the new building.

When designing the facility, the Legion talked to similar organizations down south, the seniors who live in them and Yukon seniors to find out what things are most important — from the big to the small.

It found that the top priorities for both seniors and their families were security and nutrition.

So the facility will provide a secure environment with swipe-card entry, two meals a day and other amenities, like linen services.

And it won’t stop there; the Legion is also out to make sure seniors have access to all the comforts of home.

“I never would have thought of it, but seniors like ice cream and we’re thinking of providing a little fridge with a freezer where they can keep their ice cream — little things like that,” said Laxton.

The Legion hopes the facility will also provide the city’s elders with a community.

“Since it’s hard for senior seniors to get out, they’ll cocoon up in their dwelling and that’s not a healthy thing to do,” said Laxton.

“This will give them a chance to socialize and that just adds to their wellbeing.”

And it hopes the facility will become a de facto community centre for seniors.

The Legion’s current home will be officially signed over to l’Association franco-yukonnaise on September 24.

The purchase will also allow l’Association franco-yukonnaise to remedy a serious space crunch in its current home on Strickland Street, and allow it to host bigger events.

“We’ve been really short of floor space in the past few years as a result of the rapid expansion of the organization,” said l’Association franco-yukonnaise president Jean-Marc Perreault.

“The community as a whole will profit from the long-term benefits of this purchase because we want to offer more services to the greatest number of people.”

Last year, the Legion had plans to buy and renovate the Riverview Hotel, but the agreement fell through when it couldn’t rustle up the cash.

The Legion is still eyeing the Riverview location, but has yet to make an offer on any property.

The Legion hopes to find a spot for its proposed complex by November and plunge directly into renovations.