Tag: strathcona community
An apron hangs in Michael’s kitchen. Stitched into it is a patch that says, “Michael is not only a great chef, he is a culinary artist!” Though he admits he’ll never wear it, Michael hangs the apron with pride. It was a gift from one of his neighbours at Strathcona Place. Sharing his culinary skills is something Michael takes a lot of delight in.
“Right from a young age, my siblings and I were taught to cook, clean, all for ourselves,” says Michael. “We were taught to be self-reliant with the things we had and that sense of self-reliance has certainly helped me be able to call this place home.”
Michael knows that a space like his in a Manhattan rental market would easily cost around $2,000 a month. Thankfully, Michael lives in Edmonton and in a GEF Seniors Housing apartment where the rent is geared to his income. For most people, 325 square-feet is not a lot of space. For Michael, it’s a perfect fit.
Before moving to Strathcona Place, Michael owned a house in Edmonton’s west-end. He admits it took him around six months to settle into his new apartment but now can’t imagine living anywhere else. The smaller square-footage wasn’t a deterrent at all. In fact, it was almost a selling point for him.
“I was able to see the space empty before I moved in,” Michael explains. “I took only the things I wanted from my house. I then measured out the space I had to work with and found furniture pieces that worked within the space.”
Growing up in southern Alberta coal towns, Michael remembers his family home only being around 600 square-feet. He looks at average house sizes now and can’t believe that people need so much space. The Globe and Mail reported that the average house size in Canada has ballooned to close to 2,000 square-feet (though still smaller than the average house size in the US at 2,600 square-feet).
“I have a friend who lives in a 3,000 square-feet house,” Michael says. “Every room is just full of stuff. There’s a craft room, a man cave, and it’s still not enough room for him and his wife. In Japan, an apartment the size of mine would be big enough for a whole family. What I’ve learned is the more space you have, the more money it costs.”
Michael acknowledges that many people he knows have difficulties parting with material goods and keepsakes. He notes that this could be partly because of either living through the Great Depression or having parents who did, so the need to hold onto things increases with that frame of reference. He also notes, though, that growing up he didn’t have many of the modern conveniences that so many take for granted today.
“The house I grew up in didn’t have TV or even electricity,” Michael says. “If we wanted entertainment, we had to go outside.”
The idea of leaving your space to connect with the community is something Michael still lives by. He notes that many of the people he knows in Strathcona Place get together regularly for games and for potlucks (where he shares some of his well-executed home-cooked delights) and he spends plenty of time walking in the neighbourhood. He explains that the conveniences in the community such as banks, grocery stores, and clinics are so easy to walk to, he doesn’t even own a car anymore.
“Everything you could need is right here, even the bus routes along here are some of the best in the city,” says Michael. “A monthly pass for the bus is $15. You can’t drive anywhere for that cheap.”
Not the only tenant of Strathcona Place to embrace the paired down lifestyle, many of Michael’s neighbours live in the same square footage as he does without sacrificing any passions. He points out one neighbour utilizes modular fold out tables to create a crafting space. Even the University of Alberta students who also call Strathcona Place home live in the smaller bachelor units and continue to be a welcome addition to the community inside the building.
After the six months it took him to adjust to his new living environment, he feels fully connected and comfortable where he is. He understands that the transition is stressful for many to embark on but also points out that it’s completely worth it by the end of the process.
“The staff here are amazing and do such great work to keep the building safe and so no one ever has to look over their shoulders,” says Michael. “It really is like a small town. I’m never left wanting. This is the perfect space for me and I have no plans to ever leave.”
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.”