‘My life is at stake’: B.C. senior forced to choose between housing or medication – BC

Deborah Buxton used to have a beautiful smile.

But after breaking an old bridge crown, the North Vancouver resident has been unable to afford to get it fixed.

Holding up a photo of what she used to look like only a few years ago, it shows a full, beautiful smile.

“This is what it looked like just a couple of years ago before I became homeless,” Buxton said.

In January 2022 she had to move out of the home in West Vancouver where she was working as an assistant to a family.

The now 72-year-old ended up living in her car for a year and since last May she’s been living in the Travelodge in North Vancouver.

The Travelodge has been leased by BC Housing since 2020 as a temporary response to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I have to fight every day to keep my head above water,” Buxton said.

But it was when she became diagnosed with diabetes that she started having to make some really tough choices.

“Every single month it boils down to, ‘Can I get the supplements to stop my legs from going numb?’” Buxton said.

“Which is basically — it’s the breaking down of the myelin sheath. Can I can I buy those ingredients or the supplements? Or do I pay my rent every month? It’s like that. And also, can I get a little bit of food that will help.”

Click to play video: 'BC seniors rally for higher pensions'

BC seniors rally for higher pensions

She said rent has fallen by the wayside due to the additional costs for her health.

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“My life is at stake here. I feel like I’m not going to make it,” she added.

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Buxton said she has a small pension and Old Age Security but it’s not nearly enough.

Seniors in communities across B.C. are now banding together in an effort to raise awareness about the number of retirees who find themselves living below the poverty line.

“So many people are living below the poverty line, which is $25,000 per year,”  said Carol Fawcett, a freelance writer and retired councillor behind the Seniors Tin Cup movement.

“It’s, pretty rough. Some seniors live on $17,000 a year, which is almost impossible.”

Fawcett said they have heard from seniors who cannot afford hearing aids and other necessities. She interviewed a senior who lived in her car for 14 months because she couldn’t afford rent.

“All these women are in their 70s,” she said.

“There’s something wrong. We need to do something about it. We need to stop giving politicians their raises and their pensions and focus on the seniors. They need a quality of life. They need to live with dignity and pride. And they can’t right now.”

Fawcett said they would like the pension raised to $25,252 a year and they would also like seniors to have access to free physio, massage, eye care and hearing aids.

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She added that the Tin Cup Movement is planning on holding rallies to raise awareness.

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At the end of next month, Buxton is losing her home as the lease on the Travelodge is expiring.

“BC Housing has explored a number of alternate locations to temporarily lease or purchase but has unfortunately experienced challenges in finding an alternate site on the North Shore,” BC Housing said in a statement.

“BC Housing never wants to see anyone left without a safe and secure place to stay, which is why we are working with the Lu’ma Native Housing Society and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association to identify alternative shelter and housing options, as well as relocation supports, for the remaining guests at the Travelodge. Lu’ma has been engaging with residents and working with them on their individual relocation plans.”

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Buxton is hoping she can at least secure access to a vehicle, even if it means she has to live in her car again.

“Every day I say, ‘Maybe I should just kill myself; I’m not of use anymore. Why am I here?’” she said.

“And I have to talk myself out of it. And everybody says, well, we’ll give you the crisis line and I say I don’t need the crisis line to talk me out of something. I need help, I need support.”

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