British Columbia

Community reaches out after hearing story of isolated Prince George senior but problems persist

Members of the public have been reaching out to help after hearing the story of 92-year-old Edmund Stefan, a Prince George man coping with isolation, cold and poverty. People working on the front line say more needs to be done to help other seniors in similar situations.

Edmund Stefan now has a place to eat Christmas dinner but affordable housing for seniors still an issue

Edmund Stefan is struggling to hold on as mobility issues and cold weather make it harder for him to get around. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Members of the public have been reaching out to help after hearing the story of 92-year-old Edmund Stefan, a Prince George man coping with isolation, cold and poverty.

However, people working on the front line say more needs to be done to help other seniors in similar situations.

Stefan's story was first told on CBC Daybreak North. He lives alone in a trailer park, has trouble walking and, earlier this year, his wallet along with all of his ID was stolen leaving him without a driver's licence. 

"I want to die," he said. 

"I'm to the point where, do I still live another day or is it worth it?"

An impermanent solution

Stefan's story has been shared widely on community Facebook pages, and people are rallying to help him over the holidays.

Dawn Agno, a support worker at the Fire Pit drop-in centre in downtown Prince George where Stefan likes to come to eat and socialize, said many people have contacted her asking how to help.

One family has even invited him over for Christmas dinner.

"They're going to come in from out of town... and take him out," she said.

Up to 200 people use the Fire Pit drop-in centre in downtown Prince George daily for a variety of needs. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

However, finding appropriate long-term housing is proving challenging. Agno says Stefan's failing memory means he needs more care than many shelters offer, and his attachment to his pet dog and cat is another hindrance.

"That's another big problem... nobody allows animals," she said.

Agno says the biggest challenge, however, is simply finding affordable housing and that she knows many other people in similar situations.

"There's so many people in need of low-income housing but there is just not enough housing available," she said. One agency she contacted told her the wait-list for a residence was over 80 people long. 

"We just need better housing for low-income people."

Poverty among seniors a growing problem: UBCM 

That's a sentiment Prince George city councillor and Union of B.C. Municipalities president Murry Krause agrees with.

He heard Stefan's story and was touched— but not shocked. 

UBCM president and Prince George city councillor Murry Krause says affordable housing is one of his key concerns. (Union of BC Municipalities)

"I wasn't particularly surprised," he said. "I know there's lots of people who are struggling with the housing they have."

"But I guess what was particularly upsetting, or concerning, for me was how this had affected the man in terms of even wanting to live."

Krause said Stefan's story is a reminder of the human impact of government policy towards seniors, poverty and housing.

"This is an on-the-ground effect of some of these deficiencies in our housing network," he said.

Krause has been working for years to improve low-income housing stock in Prince George and has made it one of the planks in his agenda with the UBCM.

He said one of the major challenges is many people live in substandard conditions but don't come forward to get help, and he expects the problem to worsen as the number of seniors living in poverty increases.

"We've been asking for a very long time for a national housing strategy," he said. "It really does mean all levels of government working together."

"I think it's really important that we're talking to our elected officials... about how important it is for us to get on with what's needed."

Andrew Kurjata on Twitter: @akurjata


To hear the full story click on the audio labeled 'Community reaches out after hearing story of isolated Prince George senior, but problems persist' and to hear the original story click on the audio labeled ''I want to die': isolated and cold, senior seeking help in Prince George'.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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