Category: Staff Profile
Karen Lynch was just eight years old when she “repurposed” some money she had taken from a UNICEF donation box. When her parents found out what she had done, they determined the consequence to her actions would be to volunteer at a local charity. Her parents arranged for her to volunteer at GEF’s Meadowlark Lodge and play the piano for the residents. It is still unknown today if the real punishment was for Karen or the residents. This was the first time Karen was introduced to GEF Seniors Housing, and she has kept that memory with her ever since. Many years later Karen is still a part of the GEF Family. She has been a member of our Board of Directors since 2014 and the Board Chair since 2017.
Karen is a respected civic leader, with over 40 years of diverse experience. Her reputation for making things happen and getting things done is well known in Edmonton. Karen’s passion is creating and nurturing networks of people involved in building community leadership, which makes her a perfect fit for GEF. She has served on the boards of the Edmonton Public Library, Volunteer Canada and Alberta Ballet, and as the elected President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association. Her extensive experience in politics and her wealth of knowledge has proven to be an asset to our organization.
Being a Board Chair is no easy feat and chairing meetings is the least of what she does. “An important aspect of being the Chair is creating and shaping the agenda and conversations for meetings [to ensure the organization is always following the right path and the] board members can speak up and bring the value to the table to be able to shape what GEF does.”
“Part of my job is to help recruit new board members along with the rest of the Board. We look at our matrix to see who is retiring or leaving and then we try to encourage people to approach the City or approach us, to see if they would be suitable for the Board and if they have talents or knowledge they can share and contribute.”
When reflecting back on the past five years, Karen doesn’t think the organization or the Board has changed very much. “This is an exceptionally well led organization. What I think has changed, is the environment around us. We’ve had two complete changes in the government, both federally and provincially. We’ve had many new council members, so in that respect, the connections with the external community has changed. I think that we are starting to do a better job of reaching out to other community partners we may not have known about in the past.”
Karen has been a dynamic leader and visionary for the Board of Directors of GEF Seniors Housing. She has a vision for where we need to be as an organization and the talents and passion to help us strategically get there. Her desire throughout her time on our board has been to make GEF the best organization it can be and she will not stop driving the enhancements until we get there!
When Marlene started working for GEF Seniors Housing at Kiwanis Place, the starting wage was $3.50 an hour. That was on November 1, 1977. Over 40 years later, Marlene still worked at Kiwanis Place and was an integral part of the team there.
Marlene was a soft spoken woman and everyone she encountered felt special when they were with her. She was private, yet bold in her ideas about how to improve life for both residents and staff at GEF. She was persistent in her pursuit of getting the black and white dress code changed and realized her desire when GEF adopted a coloured clothing dress code in February 2017. Finally she could dress daily in her favourite colour of pink and flowered clothing, bringing warmth and a family atmosphere to Kiwanis.
Marlene is known for her appreciation of the food GEF provided to staff during staff recognition events. Coworkers would tease Marlene as she enjoyed her second and third trip through the buffet line. On other days, Marlene always ate healthy and moderately to ensure she kept herself well and fit to complete the work that was so important to her.
Marlene was an avid shopper who regularly spent her free time checking for bargains focusing on anything pink and shoes, lots of shoes! “At Kiwanis, we were always anxious to see her new outfits after her annual bus trip to New York to visit family” said Peggy Caine, Manager at Kiwanis Place. Being the woman that she was, she always wore dresses or skirts to work and also had her hair pulled back neatly; no matter how many times her coworkers begged her to let her hair hang loose.
Marlene was born in Trinidad and moved to Montreal when she was a young adult. She and another long term GEF coworker then moved to Edmonton. She eventually was able to sponsor both her mom and sister, Mary, to come to Canada.
In 2010, Marlene was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Marlene fought a great battle. Even through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Marlene missed very little work. She knew the importance of her work and wanted to be there for her coworkers and the seniors GEF serves. It was only when she had to be in the hospital that Marlene would miss work and it was unwillingly. No matter how much coaxing from her co-workers, Marlene would not hear of retirement. She enjoyed her duties, the residents and her coworkers too much to not keep working. When one thinks of a dream employee, Marlene fits the bill in terms of reliability and dependability.
On June 12th, 2018 Marlene lost her battle with cancer but it was a battle well fought. She will be remembered for her courage, perseverance and mostly for her quiet strength. Marlene was an inspiration.
For those of us at GEF that were touched by Marlene’s presence, we will miss her greatly. To her family, please know what a difference your mom, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend made to our lives. With heart felt gratitude, we offer this tribute to Marlene for having had the pleasure of knowing and working with her.
My career with GEF Seniors Housing began in November 2003 as a sous chef at one of the lodges. At the time I had no idea about GEF Seniors Housing, its vision, mission and values. I just needed a steady job and some work life balance. You see as a Chef working in the hospitality industry, work life balance was a distant dream at most times. Over the years working with GEF Seniors Housing, I have been fortunate enough to grow in my career with various positions.
My current role as a site Manager involves many dynamics. From assessing seniors for housing, working with a fantastic group of caring and dedicated staff, helping seniors to enhance their Quality of Life while they live in our buildings, dealing with the complexities and challenges of aging and seniors housing, every day at work is different and exciting.
GEF Seniors Housing relies on several partners which are part of the everyday job; some of these partners include home care, public health, family members, various Government and City licensing bodies and authorities, contractors, service providers, hospitals…..the list goes on. Each of these organizations has their own mandate and it can be challenging at times to see the common goal in enhancing the Quality of Life for our seniors and provide affordable housing.
How do we do it? The challenges that GEF, our seniors and myself face are many. However the one equation that never changes is the unwavering dedication, love, caring and compassion of my staff towards our seniors: it overcomes all hurdles and obstacles.
You might ask how, why? The answer is simple! Our staff feel that our residents are family and treat them as such. The culture at GEF is that of relationships, trust and caring, and not many things can go wrong when you have such a work environment. Our working days are filled with all kinds of entertainment, fun and surprises. We are always dressed to impress and we take our work very seriously. We can be strict when we have to be, but remember that spills happen every day!
I was very excited when the construction of Sakaw Terrace, a 158 unit self sustaining building with a mixed market housing model, was approved and I was chosen to manage it. This building will be unique in Alberta, where it will allow people of different income levels to live together and the money generated by the 30% of market lodge and apartment units will not require GEF to borrow any money from the Government or City to operate the building once the mortgage is paid off. In fact, it will create a surplus, which will help GEF build more affordable housing units. That is the future GEF is offering seniors. The progress of Sakaw Terrace is going well and we are ahead of schedule. We will be welcoming residents in Winter 2018 and everyone in the community, at GEF and myself are very excited!
When Alanna Cyre started with GEF Seniors Housing as a Dining Room Attendant turned Supervisor five and a half years ago, she would have never guessed she would switch to a Recreation Coordinator at McQueen Place. Over a year into the position, she loves every minute of and is discovering new things every day.
“I stepped in when the Recreation Coordinator was away for a bit. I realized how much I enjoyed the difference between Dining Room Supervisor and Recreation [when it came to] getting to know the residents in a different way. Really learning what they are passionate about and then when the opportunity arose for me to take on this position, I was very excited to take a step forward and continue on what I was doing to help the residents”.
The role of the ten Recreation Coordinators located in all of our lodges is to plan and oversee the activities and events at the lodges and apartments. They coordinate a monthly calendar of age appropriate activities, outings and special events for the residents to enjoy, such as bingo, card games, entertainment, birthday parties, exercise classes, bus outings, religious meetings, pub nights and more!
Recreational activities geared for seniors have been proven to provide emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits. “I think [recreational programming] is really important because it helps with their Quality of Life. I’ve seen seniors at other facilities [and] they don’t have as many activities as what GEF has to offer”.
“You can see how excited and happy the residents are to be able to do these activities. If an activity gets cancelled because someone is sick or a volunteer has to cancel last minute and no one else can take over, you see their disappointment because they were really looking forward to be able to do something”, Cyre says. “At the lodge, they have a harder time, getting out as much, they aren’t as mobile. So to be able to have all those activities inside the building, so that they don’t have to go far, is great! They can walk down the hallway or go down to the basement to do these activities and still feel the comfort of their own home and not have to worry.”
When a new resident moves in, Cyre meets with them multiple times within the first few weeks to let them know of the programs the building has in place and helps them to get to know some of the other residents. Some residents aren’t quite ready to make that jump right away and others fit right in. At the lodge, they use the buddy system for new residents to get acquainted. She will often introduce them to more active residents who can show them the ropes a bit. This makes them feel more comfortable and when it comes to meal time, because they had that previous connection and know a friendly face or two, they don’t feel so alone.
“Working at GEF has been very eye opening to see the difference between isolated seniors and how to [combat] that isolation. Whether it’s doing one-on-ones with residents or getting them involved with group activities, we like to figure out when new residents move in, what activities they like to do and what they used to do before they moved here. If they liked to do certain activities that aren’t normally ran here, then we will try to introduce those activities so that other people can learn to play them.… It’s really helping their Quality of Life and seeing how much of a difference it makes to the seniors”.
Since starting with GEF Seniors Housing in 2017, Madison Black has bounced between multiple GEF location including Central Services, Pleasantview Place, and Montgomery Place. She is working to develop positive initiatives that she hopes will address many of the challenges faced by seniors when they experience social isolation. Pleasantview Place was being used as the first pilot site for the program because of its size and its integration of both lodge units and apartments. Black’s pilot project has a very simple and direct objective.
“My goal is to reach socially isolated seniors through recreational programing, community support resources and to help build a sense of community throughout the building” says Black about the Resident Buddy program. The program will act as a welcome-committee for seniors moving into GEF Seniors Housing buildings, offering a chance for neighbours to get to know the new members of the community.
In addition to the welcome-committee activities, the Resident Buddy program also opens up volunteering opportunities for individuals living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The volunteering opportunities that the seniors join can either be at a GEF Seniors Housing site, directly positively affecting their friends and neighbours, or out in the larger community. Black explains she’s developed close relationships with many of the local senior centres in Edmonton to help increase more opportunities for residents living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings to find those meaningful connections and opportunities to contribute something back.
“I want to show [the seniors] how valuable they are to the community and the building through volunteering opportunities,” says Black.
In addition to the Resident Buddy Program, Black is also developing a program that will bring in individuals to befriend seniors experiencing social isolation. The Friendly Visitor Program is still in development and will soon see connections being made between GEF Seniors Housing residents and community volunteers.
“[The Friendly Visitor Program] offers companionship to seniors that are feeling isolated,” says Black. “It will give the seniors someone to talk to, confide in, share stories with, and it gives the seniors something to look forward weekly. I want to provide support and resources to seniors that may be facing everyday barriers.”
The programs Black continues to help develop encompass one only aspect to her work. She and the other Community Supports team members schedule regular times to visit different sites for seniors to drop-in with questions or just sit and talk. Black has also developed a calendar system that helps address the language barriers in some of the buildings.
“Because GEF Seniors Housing has such a large spectrum of languages throughout the building, I started to offer a calendar translation services,” says Black. “This service allows seniors to request their monthly activity calendar translated into their preferred language. It is my hope that this would encourage all of our seniors to participate in daily activities.”
One of the things that surprises Cheryl Ackimenko the most about the Community Supports program with GEF Seniors Housing is how often individuals call the team’s main phone line looking for assistance. She points out how every one of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings has posters up in common areas giving information about the Community Supports program with all relevant contact information. Some individuals contact the Community Supports team even before they’re in a position of needing assistance.
“One gentleman, who recently called, moved in to his apartment a few days earlier and said he does not need any support now, but wanted to learn about services in the community should he need them in the future,” recalls Ackimenko. “He was pleasantly surprised the Community Support program was available and so accessible to him.”
Ackimenko’s previous career as an Outreach Worker, made her the perfect fit to oversee the Community Supports team while the team’s original manager, Shanika Donalds, completes her temporary leave. Ackimenko managed multiple buildings around GEF Seniors Housing for five years before moving to her position as the interim Community Supports Manager, where she oversees the team of Outreach Workers and the individual projects each is working on. The Community Supports team is made up of Nicole Smith, Madison Black and Marita Gronberg. “This team does an amazing job providing support, as they are all passionate about helping seniors increase their Quality of Life.” Though many of the referrals that come to the Community Supports team are straight from the individuals looking for help, there are still those which come from other members of the GEF Seniors Housing community.
“[The referral] may be a tenant who has a concern about their neighbor in the building and they want an outreach worker to offer information about the program to the neighbor,” explains Ackimenko. “It is great to see a sense of community being built through connections with neighbors.”
Much of the work the Community Supports does involve one-on-one consultations to identify the roots of the hardships the individuals are experiencing. Many seniors face issues around social isolation, which contain a range of debilitating mental and physical health detriments that can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. It’s during the one-on-one work that Ackimenko experiences people opening up about things.
“Recently, when assisting a woman who wanted help with decluttering her home and connecting to her community, she shared her story of how she came to GEF a few years ago,” says Ackimenko. “She was renting a house with a roommate but the relationship with the roommate deteriorated to the point where she had to move out quickly. She was very grateful that she was able to find housing within GEF Seniors Housing during this stressful time of her life. She moved in to her own apartment within GEF Seniors Housing and has felt safe every day since then. She is again happy that GEF Seniors Housing has a program to support her with her needs.”
Sharing experiences and personal stories isn’t uncommon for the Community Supports team. Part of the work of understanding what’s affecting a person’s quality of life stems from the person’s experiences. Ackimenko cherishes when people are able to open up to her and respects the amount of faith people are able to put into her and her team.
“As a Community Outreach worker, on the first visit, it is an opportunity to get to know the person and build trust,” says Ackimenko.” You learn a lot about the person and their unique needs as they share their past experiences with you and the challenges they are facing now. Often they are experiencing loneliness and isolation at this time in their life. The second visit is always welcomed, as a relationship begins to build. Helping seniors navigate their needs to increase their quality of life and reduce their social isolation is very rewarding.”
The expression “every day is different” is often overused. In the case of Marita Gronberg, Community Supports Outreach Worker with GEF Seniors Housing, the expression takes on a whole new level of meaning. She explains that her role in the Community Supports team sees her making those one-on-one connections with people living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and building the kinds of relationships where she’s able to identify what’s missing in a person’s life and how her area of expertise can help them.
“Some days I spend making phone calls and referrals, other days I am out visiting people in their homes within the GEF Seniors Housing community,” says Gronberg. “There are a variety of concerns residents bring forward during conversation, anywhere from the topics of experiencing abuse to the need of support for housecleaning.”
The foundation of trust Gronberg builds with the people she works one-on-one with is crucial to ensuring they receive the supports they need. She identifies social isolation as being one of the most pervasive issues that many seniors face. Research has shown that social isolation’s damaging effects extend far past simply having no one to talk to. The mental and physical health detriments seniors experience when isolated can seriously affect their quality of life and include an increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, increased blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
“This isolation makes it difficult for seniors to be aware of the resources available to them that can improve their quality of life and independence. Community Supports breaks through the wall of isolation, meeting people where they are at, and creating a support for someone they may not have had in a long time.”
The kinds of issues Gronberg has helped people work through include finding transportation solutions for people who can no longer drive, working on finance issues with people trying to live on a low-income, and even more serious mental health issues such as hoarding disorders and depression. She recounts a story about working with a woman living with depression and some of the challenges she helped her overcome.
“She no longer had interest in any activities, lost her appetite, found no feelings of happiness, felt she had no reason to live, and only wanted to sleep,” recalls Gronberg. “She reached out to Community Supports and was able to share everything she has been experiencing and feeling without any judgment in return. She said the biggest thing she needed was just to talk to someone, and know that she is not alone with these thoughts and feelings. Within another month of taking the medications from her doctor, she was back to feeling like her normal self. She was so happy to have had someone to listen to her during her darkest time.”
Gronberg knows how hard it can be for people to open up and ask for help. Seniors especially have this difficulty because they often don’t know what’s available to them and how easy it is to access what are often free or low-cost services and solutions to many issues they face. Gronberg’s worked hard to earn a good reputation around GEF Seniors Housing and continues working with people one-on-one to ensure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“Each time someone allows me into their home and personal space, and opens up to me about their deep and personal experiences,” says Gronberg. “It is always a high honor and privilege.”
Yiming Li found her passion in working with seniors at a very young age. She explains that while she was growing up in Dalian, China, her parents were very busy people and so she spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Developing that close relationship with both sets of her grandparents made her realize that there were some serious gaps in how China is addressing aging.
“China is an aging country with many older adults,” explains Li. “Yet, the government there isn’t focused on seniors issues.”
Li landed in Canada in 2013 to study at the University of Alberta’s Department in Human Ecology, Majoring in Family Ecology and Minoring in Aging. Now in her fourth year of studies, she’s spending her practicum working with GEF Seniors Housing’s Community Supports team on the Quality of Life survey and on surveys for people transitioning into living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings.
The surveys themselves aren’t particularly intensive and more rely on conversation and discovery as opposed to question and answers. The aims of the surveys are to identify keys points in the individuals that will help them live with a good quality of life while calling a GEF Seniors Housing building home and to find where key areas of services are lacking so the team can develop new programs based on the data from the surveys.
Through the surveys that Li has conducted so far, she has noticed a trend toward loneliness and isolation, especially in people with English as a second language or limited skills in English. Li saw this as an opportunity, especially with the large population of people living at Montgomery Place whose first language is Mandarin.
“Because of the language barrier, some of the people living at Montgomery Place had some frustrating experiences,” explains Li. “So when I first called to interview them, they were very hesitant to speak to me and didn’t want to participate in any of the survey work I was doing.”
Even speaking Mandarin over the phone didn’t break any of the barriers these people had, Li points out. So she had to rethink her approach in trying to reach a segment of GEF Seniors Housing’s population who needed connection. With calling on the phone no longer being a viable option, Li started making regular treks to Montgomery Place during the regular coffee hour in hopes of connecting with the Mandarin speaking population face to face.
Meeting face to face proved to be a huge success for Li. She quickly noticed how much more comfortable the people were when they met with Li in person and how happy they were to talk with her about the things that would help give them a good quality of life. Through her experience working with the people living at Montgomery Place, Li wants the rest of her practicum at GEF Seniors Housing to be focused on the Chinese populations in the building and to connect with them on a level that may be lacking for them.
“A bigger goal from all of this is to have a volunteer program where people who can speak the language come in and connect with the seniors who are experiencing isolation,” explains Li.
Once her practicum ends and she graduates from the University of Alberta, Li hopes to go back to China and implement much of what she has learned to the Chinese seniors industry. She explains that her country has a long way to go before even catching up to Canadian standards for aging and seniors programs and thinks that her education could make an impact on the Chinese systems.
“There is very little seniors housing available and what is available isn’t very professionally run,” says Li. “I hope to work with the seniors housing organizations in China and start to make some changes based on the things I learned while working with GEF Seniors Housing.”
After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.
“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.
“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”
Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.
“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”
Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.
“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”
The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.
“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”
The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.
“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”
For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”
Colleen Simpson started working with GEF Seniors Housing in 1994 and has worked at multiple sites all throughout the organization before landing at Cathedral Close, where she works as an Assistant Manager. One constant that she has noticed, right from her first position at the original McQueen Place, is that hoarding behaviour is prevalent in many seniors. While working at Central Services, former Director of Operations Greg Dewling suggested that Simpson join a group chaired by Sage Seniors Association looking at the problem of hoarding style behaviour.
In 2012, Simpson began working with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition, a group made up of representatives from non-profit community organizations and people with lived hoarding behaviour experiences. The group’s mission includes looking more into hoarding behaviour, recognizing gaps in services and funding, identifying supports for clients, pinpointing the roles of community partners, and researching the statistics for community presentations. As Simpson explains, much of the information needed to properly address hoarding behaviours is severely lacking.
“Much of the data we rely upon for our research is actual US based because the Canadian research simply doesn’t exist,” says Simpson. “Hoarding behaviour as a condition was only recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. Much of the research and recognition of this as a disorder is new. Even the research in the US only started about 20 years ago.”
A few facts that are known about hoarding disorder are that older adults are three times more likely to experience the behaviour than younger adults, men are more likely to exhibit the symptoms where women are more likely to seek out help, and that hoarding tendencies begin between ages 11 and 15. As part of working with other agencies to gather data through surveys of reported cases, the group conducted a survey in 2016 that looked at 257 individual cases. The stats have been compiled into presentations for other organizations to help increase the awareness and knowledge of the issue. Though Simpson is proud of the work done in the surveys and being gathered by the Coalition, she also knows where the research falls short.
“The survey only covers reported cases of hoarding behaviour where individuals sought out help and accessed services,” says Simpson. “That leaves enormous gaps in unreported cases and cases where individuals didn’t seek help.”
Though there are other groups like the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition across Canada, Simpson points out that they are not consistent in other cities. She stresses that it’s going to be through the work of community focused groups that will spur more interest and better education around what constitutes hoarding disorders. Simpson explains that even some of her own assumptions from before her work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has led her to inaccurate assumptions.
“I’ve made the call to support services about a hoarding issue and once the workers arrive, they tell me that’s it’s not a hoarding situation,” says Simpson. “Hoarding disorder is so much more than just accumulating things. It’s a whole range of behaviours that when combined, build to dangerous situations.”
Dangers with hoarding situations in the home include blocking electrical outlets and heating vents which can lead to fire, piles of possessions toppling over causing injury, and blocking essential spaces like kitchens and washrooms. For seniors, the issue becomes more hazardous as many live with mobility restrictions and require mobility aids to get around their apartments. There are support services available such as Sage Seniors Association’s This Full House program, which sees outreach workers assisting seniors work through hoarding issues and maintain healthier living environments, but often times the call for an intervention comes much later than it should.
The Edmonton Hoarding Coalition’s goals include setting up a directory of services for people living with hoarding behaviours, even beyond decluttering and waste management. Simpson points out home trades such as plumbers and electricians often won’t work in homes where hoarding is occurring. Finding the services that can help a person while living in a hoarding situation will be key to ensuring they can continue living with a good quality of life.
For Simpson, some of the most important impacts that the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has had for her are working to change her own attitudes and assumptions and enlightening her as to what to look for when she suspects someone is living with a hoarding disorder. Most important, though, is ensuring she remembers that who she is talking with is a human being.
“We don’t identify people as hoarders, people are not the condition that they are living with,” says Simpson. “Our seniors living with hoarding disorder, or any other condition that may need services and supports, deserve to live with a good quality of life. Without the right kind of data leading us in the best direction, it can be hard to know what are the best steps to take. We’re hoping that the work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition will establish that data set needed to increase awareness and work towards building a community that has a better understanding of how to help people living with hoarding disorder.”