ONE OF THE BEST parts of an election is that fresh ideas are put forward. For instance, this week, Mike O’Reilly, council candidate for the upcoming Oct. 20 City of Kamloops’ elections, suggested that the disused Ministry of Transportation site at 6th and Columbia would be perfect for a new City park.
For me, the thing that is needed most in the downtown core, is not more park space, but building more seniors’ housing.
Our city is getting older. Many seniors lose the ability to drive. But that doesn’t mean they need to be isolated if where they live is close to the things they need. I know many seniors in the core of our city who don’t drive but who easily get out for shopping, services and social events.
Feeling connected to others, rather than feeling lonely is not just a nice to have. A Dutch study found that those who reported feeling lonely faced a 64 per cent increase in the risk of developing dementia. Feeling connection is part of good health.
Parks may help, but it is the day to day, from playing crib with friends, to meeting a former colleague for coffee, or doing grocery shopping in a familiar store that brings people together.
For the last 20 years, seniors’ residences in Kamloops have been pushed more and more to the edges of the city. There are large seniors’ complexes in Upper Sahali, Pineview, Dallas, Westsyde and Brocklehurst. These complexes are beautiful and well serviced, but incredibly isolated geographically. There is little shopping and few activities around them. I heard more than one person equate these seniors’ complexes in the hinterlands of Kamloops as prisons for the elderly.
Some might argue that once a senior is living in such a home, they don’t need to go shopping or have outside activities. But what I see of seniors who live in downtown Kamloops is that they are much more able to stay connected with the rest of our community.
Seniors in the centre of Kamloops have ready access to many things than those at the edges of the city don’t have.
Downtown is full of things seniors need, from grocery stores and pharmacists, to doctors and dentist, plus, most important of all, activities. There are activities from bridge, carpet bowling and crafts. There are concerts, art shows, and a library.
The downtown is accessible. Often, I’ve seen seniors, either walking or with a scooter, go all the way from Ponderosa or Glenfair, south of Columbia Street, all the way down to Lansdowne Street for shopping. Along the way, they have a few chats as well. A similar trip from seniors’ complexes at the edge of the city just isn’t possible.
The downtown has activities that bring seniors together. Every month or so, I join in the dinner of the seniors’ centre at Desert Gardens downtown. Up to 200 people show up to take in the dinner. Most are well past 70 years old, and some are into their 90’s, plus a handful of younger family and friends. The seniors in the downtown are able to spend time with their friends, and catch up on the latest news.
On one hand, seniors’ housing could be put anywhere. But in terms of quality of life, in terms of maintaining independence, and in terms of keeping the older members connected with the rest of the community, having more seniors’ housing in the centre makes the most sense.
I like O’Reilly’s idea for a park at 6thand Columbia. But the number of seniors in our community continues to grow. We need to build a community that allows seniors to be as independent and connected as possible. I see the land at 6thand Columbia as being even better suited for seniors housing.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.