EDITORIAL: Safety net not assured

Thirty-one seniors organizations in the Lower Mainland, currently funded by the United Way, are not having that funding renewed.

The old saying “charity begins at home” comes to mind with news this week that 31 seniors organizations in the Lower Mainland, currently funded by the United Way, are not having that funding renewed once current contracts expire.

The United Way is quick to point out it’s customary for some of its grants not to be renewed, as part of ongoing reviews of resources and needs assessments, and that it’s actually doing more for seniors now, with the increasing ‘greying’ of our society, than ever before – even more than it does for children and families.

The last United Way campaign raised some $27 million, down around $1 million from the year before – part of a steady annual decline since a high-water mark of more than $30 million in 2009.

The current contracts, set to expire this year or next, represent $1.6 million for the organizations. While each of the contracts likely represents valuable services for our growing seniors population, the fact is that, in the current economy, it’s getting harder for organizations like the United Way to raise charitable donations, as ordinary people examine their own shrinking resources in the face of higher gas prices, food costs and utility fees.

The kinds of organizations left out in the cold by the shortfall of charitable dollars provide temporary shelter for homeless seniors and reach out to isolated seniors to help keep them active and independent. Services affected include help for unattached seniors who struggle to get by on single-pension incomes, and those with chronic illnesses, disabilities and mobility challenges.

None of these people are those to whom glib “get a job” arguments can be applied.

At some point we have to recognize there are those less fortunate than ourselves, and that human compassion is not a function of black-and-white profit-and-loss statements.

It’s on the shoulders of all of us, whether we’re private or corporate citizens, to give back to our elders – as we would hope to receive some help as we encounter frailties beyond our control.

Given the prevailing economic climate, and the frequent reminders we receive that the public purse is as limited as our own, nobody’s holding their breath waiting for governments – whether local, provincial or federal – to step in and provide some kind of safety net for these seniors and their service providers.