By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
East Toronto’s WoodGreen Community Services is providing a Seniors Helpline in partnership with Home and Community Support Services and Les Centres d’Accueil Héritage.
The free service began about six years ago as two separate phone lines – a crisis line and a service navigation line – but the services were merged to make seeking help more efficient for seniors, said WoodGreen spokesperson Rochelle McAlister.
“It’s a Toronto-based service but we do get calls from other parts of the province – even other provinces,” said McAlister. “But we’re really focused on trying to provide seniors support in Toronto.”
As the Christmas holidays approach, many senior residents find themselves feeling increasingly isolated. Last December, the helpline received the year’s highest volume with more 3,100 calls from seniors seeking assistance – many of which were calls regarding food insecurity issues.
With a total of 55,000 calls, 2021 also saw record numbers due to an increased need of assistance as a result of COVID-19’s hit on the economy.
So far this year, between January and November of 2022, there have been 38, 203 calls received. Although this is less than the previous calendar year, McAlister expects an increase in call volume leading up to the new year. Between Dec. 1 until Dec. 19, there have been 2,334 calls.
“The Christmas holidays and other holidays during this period really emphasizes people’s isolation and loneliness,” said McAlister.
“That’s another reason people want to call. Everyone at the phone line is trained in supportive counselling and are registered professionals so they are amazing at providing this kind of support.”
According to McAlister, a caller must be 65 and above if they are to be referred to the mobile crisis outreach service for seniors. However, older adults aged 55 and above as well as caregivers are also welcome to call the helpline.
“We have certain age criteria but anyone who is an older adult or senior is welcome to call,” she said.
The helpline’s crisis navigation collaborates across sectors including health, law enforcement, housing support, and legal support. It is available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Monday to Friday) and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (weekends and statutory holidays).
Services include crisis de-escalation and supportive counselling; assistance with age-related cognitive, mental health and addiction crises; information and referral to local services and supports; and information and referral for community support services.
WoodGreen is currently trying to seek funding in order to make the helpline a 24/7 service.
“One thing that we’re hoping seniors will do is that if they are in crisis or feeling lonely or isolated, they call us rather than 911,” said McAlister.
“Of course if it’s a medical acute situation, they should definitely call 911 or go to the emergency room.”
This proposed change aims to help alleviate some of the pressures currently on Ontario’s medical system. If WoodGreen’s helpline evolves into a 24/7 service, hospitals’ time and resources can be used on individuals with more immediate medical needs.
“For some seniors, this is a lifeline,” said McAlister. “This is a way for seniors to remember that they’re not alone and that there are compassionate people who are wanting to talk to them and really hear from them. There’s no shame in asking for help so please don’t hesitate to give us a call.”
For any senior seeking assistance through the holiday period or any other time of the year, call the WoodGreen Seniors Helpline at 416-217-2077 or 1-877-621-2077 (toll-free).