OPINION: Defunding of successful seniors’ program was a mistake


Bonnie Stevenson

Bonnie Stevenson

I was shocked to learn about the United Way’s decision to discontinue funding for the Lambton Seniors Association Handyman/Handywoman program.

I was aware the United Way had instituted a means test to show program outcomes,’ but the LSA program’s outcomes are positive and self-evident.

A statistician will tell you statistics can be spun to arrive at whatever outcome you wish, but the raw data should have been enough to demonstrate the intrinsic value of funding this program.

I don’t affix blame to the United Way. It is required to make judgements using a set of quantitative criteria. But the use of such guidelines removes the humanity from the process and the LSA Handyman/Handywoman program is now its victim.

My elderly cousin used the program’s services several times. She resided in a small, 65-year-old converted cottage overlooking the St. Clair River. It was in a desirable residential area that some, including the UW, might say made her ineligible for help. But my cousin’s net income was barely enough to keep her in her home without the burden of substantial repairs, and her family was unable to help her. She was grateful for the program.

The question is; should she have been denied service because of the neighbourhood she lived in? Should she have been forced to leave her home and seek residence in one of our overcrowded seniors’ homes just because she and her husband bought and developed a desirable property in the 1950s?

I appreciate the work of the United Way of Sarnia-Lambton. I have always viewed it as an organization where mercy and assistance can be found when there is need.

But our seniors are in need of trustworthy, skilled helpers who can help them live out their lives in the comfort of their own home. Without the LSA Handyman/Handywoman program, where will these disadvantaged seniors – the people who worked hard to own their home and who have contributed so much to Sarnia-Lambton – find the assistance they need and can afford?

Lambton County recently announced a new Age-in-Place initiative, and it seems to me one of its partners should have been the LSA Handyman/Handywoman program.

Instead, this solid tried-and-true program, which was developed by seniors in consultation with seniors and has operated successfully for well over a decade, has lost its funding while another group tries to “reinvent the wheel.”

The decision to cut the program’s funding was a step toward the disenfranchisement of our seniors, and I believe it was wrong.

Bonnie Stevenson is a freelance journalist, communication consultant, and author of two books in the Bootjack Mary series