Nanaimo advocate says seniors will fall through cracks

NANAIMO – Senior advocate says seniors will suffer with elimination of volunteer position.

June Ross is worried vulnerable seniors will fall through the cracks with the elimination of her volunteer position as a seniors’ advocate.

For the past six years, Ross volunteered to help seniors with a variety of issues, such as residential tenancy issues or MSP appeals for medication coverage.

She estimates helping more than 200 seniors since she started, paying for supplies and application fees out of her own pocket.

The elimination of her volunteer position stems from a complaint lodged by a private apartment building owner with parks and recreation department, Ross says. She was working with three women who had issues with their apartments and wrote the owner.

“The owner phoned and threatened to sue the city,” said Ross. “Harbour City Seniors made a motion to drop the program.”

Ross is disappointed the decision to eliminate the volunteer position was made without involving her in the discussion.

She also contends Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors didn’t have the authority to eliminate the position, because it fell under the city’s purview – she originally approached the city staff member responsible for seniors’ programs to offer her advocacy time.

Suzanne Samborski, senior manager of recreation and culture for Nanaimo, said the relationship between the city department and the Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors society isn’t black and white – sometimes the two work in partnership and others the society falls under the parks and rec umbrella.

Samborski said Ross was brought into the Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors, formerly the Bowen Park Seniors, by the staff person who liaises with the organization. She added the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission and the Harbour City Seniors Society made the decision to end the relationship.

The city views the position as under the senior society’s umbrella. When it decided to eliminate it, the city was asked if it would solely take on the responsibility, but it couldn’t because of conflict of interest issues, Samborski said.

Samborski said the commission contacted other municipalities to determine what others are doing and said discovered municipalities such as Burnaby did offer a service through a volunteer. A lawyer was volunteering on a regular basis, but the municipality had to sever that relationship because of conflict of interest concerns.

Ross said parks and recreation suggested offering the service out of her home, but she needs to be covered under a volunteer insurance policy and she isn’t willing to operate from home or other organizations through which she could volunteer. She wants the city to provide a space and pay for supplies and application costs.

Lynda Avis, a chairwoman for the Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors, declined to comment on the issue.

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