Some seniors live final years in limbo

Every month, Elsie Howie drops $105 further into the hole. The 72-year-old Whitehorse resident lost her husband three year ago.

Every month, Elsie Howie drops $105 further into the hole.

The 72-year-old Whitehorse resident lost her husband three year ago.

Since then, things have gotten tough.

“On two incomes we managed well, but after he passed away (the money) doesn’t go far enough,” she said.

Howie has been on a Yukon Housing seniors’ waitlist for two and a half years.

But she isn’t hopeful about getting a place.

“Mom will die waiting on that list,” said her son Dave Howie.

“The system doesn’t work.”

There are currently 30 seniors on the waitlist, said director of Yukon Housing operations Ron Brown.

“There are some people on that list for more than a year,” he said.

“It depends on the housing need and our rating system — some people have greater needs than others.”

Yukon Housing assesses an applicant’s income, what their rent costs, their drug plan, mobility issues, and whether they’re living in overcrowded conditions or have poor ventilation and heat issues. Or whether they have a place at all.

“We have a comprehensive rating system,” said Brown.

And if someone has been on the list for two and a half years, then obviously their need is not as great, he said.

“And they are not in as bad a situation.

“They get an extra point for every year they’re on the list,” increasing their eligibility, added Brown. So, the longer you are waiting, the more priority you are given.

If you own real estate, your need drops.

To improve her chances of getting into seniors’ housing, Elsie sold her trailer to her son.

“I bought the trailer so she could stay living there while she waits for a place to become available,” said Dave.

But the trailer has steps to the front door, and Elsie in having increasing trouble climbing them, added Dave.

“She has mobility issues, uses a cane and a walker and her doctor wants her in a single-level place,” he said.

“She needs to be in a suite designed for someone with mobility issues.”

Last year Elsie fell twice, once lying in her yard calling until a neighbour heard her and helped her up.

“I worry about Mom, but I can’t be here all the time,” said Dave, who shovels the snow, takes out the trash and, with his sister, helps buy Elsie her groceries.

“I can’t afford fruits and vegetables,” she said.

“But I’m diabetic and I’m supposed to be eating them.”

Elsie earns $1,489.95 a month — $724.66 from the Canada Pension Plan and $765.29 through Old Age Security.

It’s not enough to live on, she said.

Elsie’s only rent is the cost of the mortgage and the trailer pad fees, totaling $580 a month.

She pays another $625 for heat, power, phone, cable, life and vehicle insurance and Line of Life. This doesn’t include groceries or gas.

“My sister and I help out,” said Dave.

Elsie falls into a grey area — she makes too much to qualify for social assistance, but not enough to get by comfortably.

It causes a lot of stress, she said.

If she got into Yukon Housing, Elsie’s rent, including utilities, would be calculated at a quarter of her income.

Despite the positive financial effect a move into seniors’ housing would have on her income, Elsie’s chances are slim.

She has a roof over her head — owned by her son — she’s not suffering abuse and she owns a dog, named Cookie.

While all Yukon Housing seniors’ apartments allow for cats, fish and other indoor pets, dogs are only allowed in 28 of the 142 units.

Of those 28, only seven have dogs in them, according to a July 24th letter from Whitehorse Housing Authority.

So, to get into Yukon Housing, Elsie would have to be the first one on the waitlist — which fluctuates all the time — and the unit that came available would have to allow dogs.

If she were second on the list, and a dog unit became available, it would go to the first person waiting, whether or not they had a dog.

“Dog units mean dogs are allowed, not designated,” said Brown.

Every month, Elsie is required to call Yukon Housing to assure them she’s still hoping to get in, and to check on her standings.

Last week she was fifth on the list, said Dave.

But a week later, she’s back down to 18th.

Two years ago she was 17th.

“I don’t know if I’m coming or going — every month I phone and they tell me if I have a home, or I don’t,” said Elsie.

“And I always hope that maybe I’ll be lucky this month — I never thought it would take this long — never.”

Last summer, Elsie was offered a unit generally reserved for those on social assistance. She declined it.

“I am a people person, and I want to be among other seniors,” she said.

“The seniors’ complexes have game rooms and one place even has a hairdresser.”

Elsie was also offered an apartment at the Athletes’ Village. She turned that one down, too, because she couldn’t bring Cookie.

The friendly, five-year-old fluffball rings a bell when she wants to go outside. The dog was a present from Elsie’s husband.

The couple were truck drivers, and had navigated the nation’s highways for 11 years. On one of his last trips up from Edmonton, her husband arrived with Cookie.

He’s the one who trained her to ring the bell.

“She’s good for me,” said Elsie, holding the licking dog in her lap.

“She checks the place out; she knows if anything’s wrong, and she comes and sits beside me if the alarm goes off.

“She’s my companion because I spend most of my evenings alone,” said Elsie.

“And it’s good for me to have to get up and feed and water her.”

When the units at the Athletes’ Village became available, 35 people passed Elsie on the list because they didn’t make provisions for dog units, said Dave.

“The system does not, and will not ever, work for my mother or anyone else in her position,” said Dave.

Dog units must be on the ground floor and have a private entrance, said Brown.

There are no units with private entrances at the Athletes’ Village, he said.

It could be years before a dog unit becomes available, said Elsie.

“Our priority is tenants and housing,” said Brown.

“And there are people out there with desperate housing needs,” he said, mentioning people who are living in cars.

“So if you’re 15th on the list and a dog unit comes up, do we bump the other 15 in front of you?”

Contact Genesee Keevil at