The "safe house" has for decades been the domain of women and youth fleeing violence and neglect at home, but now the emergency shelter model is catering to a new demographic: seniors.
On June 4, the North Shore's first ever shelter for abused and neglected seniors opened in the City of North Vancouver.
For now, it's just a single suite capable of accommodating one person or a married couple. But organizers Hollyburn Family Services Society and Lionsview Seniors' Planning Society are asking North Shore municipal governments to support a dedicated multi-unit shelter for at-risk seniors.
When the new safe suite opened Monday in an undisclosed North Vancouver apartment, it was occupied immediately.
"He came from the hospital," said Leya Eguchi, coordinator for Hollyburn. "We got a call from his social worker saying he was losing his home and he's going to be discharged and needs to recover medically."
His is a story that's becoming increasingly common, Eguchi told The Outlook, citing a March 2012 study of North Shore seniors whose tales of neglect ranged from that of a poor couch-surfing cancer survivor who's run out of available couches, to a wealthy 73-year-old war veteran bounced from his West Van home by an embezzling accountant.
The need for more seniors' safe suites, it seems, grows almost by the day.
"We get now 20 calls a week from seniors," Eguchi told the West Vancouver council on June 4 in a joint presentation with Amanda Brown of Vancouver Coastal Health. "Usually only about five we can help."
The presentation asked West Van councillors to at least keep the daily needs of West Van seniors in mind, if council is ultimately unable or unwilling to find the money or space for a dedicated seniors' safe house.
Eguchi cited statistics showing violence against seniors has risen in Canada by 14 per cent since 2004.
Of those incidents made known to police, 35 per cent were reportedly committed by a family member, with seniors of both genders apparently as likely to suffer violence from one of their adult children as a young woman is to suffer violence from her male spouse.
"It's really a developing crisis because we just don't have all the numbers yet," Eguchi said.
Loosely modeled on a seniors' safe suite program in Manitoba, the North Van suite is open to seniors for a maximum stay of three months, during which time Hollyburn outreach worker Geoff Bodnarek checks in on clients and works with them to find safe and stable longterm housing on the North Shore.
"We think that West Van would be a good place for the safe house because, in terms of elder abuse and neglect and things like that, West Van just has more seniors," Eguchi said. "Seniors should live in their own communities and access services in their own communities and shouldn't be forced just because someone is abusing or taking advantage of them to move outside their communities."
Since 2006, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has recognized June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.