Linda Ensley remembers when she encountered a senior who was just weeks away from living in his car. His monthly income was only around a couple of hundred dollars and he could no longer afford to pay rent, let alone pay rent while affording food and all the other aspects that make for a good quality of life. Ensley explains that once she was put into contact with this senior through the work she does with the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre, she was able to start the right kinds of conversations to help this person work out his situation.
“Through the systems we set up, we put him in contact with our year-round tax clinic and helped him find seniors benefits he didn’t know about,” explains Ensley, whose work as Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s Executive Director has her and her team working with hundreds of seniors every day, ensuring that they have everything they need to continue living comfortably as their situations change. “After we worked out his finances, we got in touch with GEF Seniors Housing to find him an affordable place to live. Within two weeks, we had more than tripled his income and had him ready to move into the nearby Strathcona Place seniors apartment.”
The Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s role in the lives of the seniors living in the south-central and south-western Edmonton neighbourhood has expanded exponentially since Ensley took over as Executive Director three years ago. She explains that the social work aspect to the centre needed upgrading. Thankfully, her background working with General Electric’s Information Technology (IT) department gave her some unique insights as to where the improvements could begin.
“Before, we worked on one to two cases a month,” says Ensley. “Since implementing our new technology driven processes, we handled more than 1,800 individual cases over the past six months.”
The encrypted technology component integrated into Strathcona Place’s operations consists of two different pieces of software: MeisterTask and HipChat. The MeisterTask software was originally designed to track IT work orders for private companies, but Ensley and Assistant Executive Director Francisco Yu quickly spotted how easy it could be used for securely tracking social work cases. The HipChat software helps the staff, students, and volunteer base drive internal conversations on issues that the case workers need different perspectives to create the choices seniors need. It allows the multi-disciplinary team the chance to find, creative, and innovative solutions for complex cases by pooling their resource knowledge from different disciplines.
“Using this technology has completely streamlined our approach to the social work aspect,” says Yu. “We know technology can be intimidating so we’re making sure that any work we do with the technology while talking with a senior is as seamless as possible.”
The total range of services that Strathcona Place Seniors Centres Outreach Team offer range from financial assistance to assisting newly landed senior immigrants with language barriers and even creative arts classes such as exercise, writing and painting. Staff at Strathcona Place Seniors Centre speak a total of 12 languages including a range of Asian languages, European languages, and indigenous dialects such as Kanada. The team also has access to translators for another 17 languages through extended partnerships with other multicultural organizations.
For all the good that Strathcona Place Seniors Centre is able to offer the community, Ensley knows that the building itself needs some improvements. Being built in 1971, much of the building needs upgrades and Ensley knows a simple facelift won’t be enough. Plans to tear down the current building and rebuild it are currently underway. Most interesting is the idea of connecting the seniors centre to the nearby GEF Seniors Housing Strathcona Place apartment and finding ways to be a community hub that addresses the needs of the seniors and the community.
“The value that the tenants living at the GEF Seniors Housing building near the centre receive when they participate in its programs is tremendous,” says Manak Dhillon, GEF Seniors Housing’s Strathcona Place building manager. “Finding creative and innovative ways to bridge our two organizations and help our partnership grow makes the most sense and gives the best possible benefit to the people most important to us: the seniors we serve.”
Be it athletics, textile weaving, supporting LGBTQ+ seniors, partnering with Indigenous groups, providing intergenerational programming opportunities, or working on elder abuse education, the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre continues working to add value to the lives of seniors in Edmonton. Its partnerships with other community focused organizations, such as GEF Seniors Housing, ensures that it can reach as many seniors possible and continue working to create a better quality of life for those who need it most.
“Everything we do is to help people find better outcomes,” says Ensley. “Things are always changing and we’re working to future proof everything that we do. We’re always asking ourselves what’s the next step in further addressing the needs of seniors.”