Age Concern launches $100,000 appeal to aid struggling seniors
A lifeline for seniors struggling with basic expenses against a backdrop of soaring inflation is now part of an appeal for the community’s help.
The charity Age Concern Bermuda, fighting to get ahead of Bermuda’s cost of living for its financing hardship programme, has teamed with The Royal Gazette to highlight the challenges confronting older residents.
Seniors sounded the alarm early in the summer as Bermuda’s rising cost of living added to the pressure.
The hardship programme’s outlay in recent years has “hovered around $90,000 in proceeds going to seniors to get direct financial support from us”, according to Mercedes Pringle-DeSilva, the programmes operations manager at Age Concern.
Age Concern has set a bar of $100,000 to cover the programme for 2022-23, after the charity was called upon to give $92,500 in the past year.
Ms Pringle-DeSilva said the organisation had tightened its belt since the new fiscal year began to stay afloat “in case an emergency comes up”.
“This campaign is to let the public know — we want to be able to give to people in need when they need it, and not have to say no.”
Referrals come from services such as the Department of Financial Assistance, Ageing and Disability Services and other agencies such as Home, the charity for the homeless.
“Sometimes we have to tell people no, because we are simply too strapped,” said Ms Pringle-DeSilva, who joined Age Concern in 2019 as a volunteer.
Having older relatives, including a 103-year-old great grandmother, gives her insight into the hardships faced by the elderly.
The donations drive is aimed at keeping the hardship programme nimble and avoiding operating costs eating into funds better spent on covering rent or an electricity bill for a senior caught short.
“I have to say, we’ve reached a capacity for what we are able to assist per year,” she said. “Right now we’re hovering between 265 to 285 people per year. But it fluctuates.
“Obviously with the cost-of-living increases, there’s a great concern — inflation continues. There are going to be knock-on effects with our clients when their money can’t go as far as they need. Inflation doesn’t mean their pay is going to increase.”
In 2005, Age Concern launched a hardship programme to assist seniors at the same time that it unrolled a “handyman programme” to help with minor home repairs.
But it was cut because of the non-profit’s increasing liabilities and risks connected with overseeing it.
In 2007, Age Concern partnered with Belco to draw up a hardship fund helping seniors with overdue electricity costs.
Later, the two concepts were merged, becoming a general hardship fund to assist eligible candidates with short-term financial support – mostly in the areas of food, medications, electricity and repairs.
“Extremely generous” support came at the height of the Covid-19 crisis to help seniors to cover their food and electricity bills, rent, mortgages and medication
“There was an emergency fund, and it was used,” Ms Pringle-DeSilva said. “The problem now is, post-Covid, inflation continues to rise.
“So what happens when grants don’t also increase at the rate of inflation?”
The pandemic foisted working-from-home on many families, with some seniors ending up with relatives under their roofs, pushing up their bills.
Others seniors with tenants have ended up caught between their own rising expenses.
“We get calls coming in from some who are concerned that what they’re currently charging is not enough to sustain them,” the programmes operation manager said. “They’re asking, ‘What do I do? I literally cannot live off this now’.”
Donor fatigue at a time of rising need “is a concern”, she added. “We got great support during Covid, but it’s not pouring in as it did before.
“We have heard back from one or two of our regular donors who tell us they have reached their maximum for the year.”
But Ms Pringle-DeSilva added she was optimistic the campaign could meet its target.
“We’ve made a lot of effort in the past two years to get ourselves in a more data-driven way. So we can answer the questions, and explain precisely how our programme works.”
• To support Age Concern’s hardship campaign covering seniors for groceries, utilities and other basic needs, give to the charity’s website via this link.