Today's Toronto Star carries a sad yet far from unusual story about Dan and Alice Heap.
Dan Heap was an Anglican priest who chose to work in a box factory as a better means of engaging ordinary people both about the gospel and about social justice. In time, he was elected to Toronto City Council. In 1981, he stunned the pundits by winning a federal byelection in Spadina, which had previously been a Liberal stronghold. His municipal ward was later represented by the late NDP leader Jack Layton, and his federal seat is now held by his former constituency assistant, Olivia Chow.
Compared to many people in today's economy, Dan and Alice are relatively well off financially, including the MP pension that the Canadian right used to rail about. They did make the "mistake" of selling their former home at less than market value to a community based organization, but they likely still have an overall retirement income that would be the envy of many Canadians of their generation.
Yet Dan and Alice couldn't get long term care in their community. Their needs (especially Dan's) are now well beyond what their former retirement home could manage. They've been on a waiting list for several years. In the mean time, members of their extended family have been staying with Dan and Alice 24/7, sleeping on the floor of thier very tiny suite. (Oddly, just as the story came out, a space became available for Dan. What a coincidence.)
The story is perhaps a little more poignant because of who Dan is (former Councillor and former MP) and because of who Dan and Alice are (longterm community activists). Unfortnately, their story is not exceptional. In Canada today, it's a travesty.
I remember Dan from when I was a divinity student at Trinity. He had just won the Spadina byelection a few weeks before the beginning of my first term. (The byelection was called when Pierre Trudeau gave the sitting MP, Peter Stollery, the taskless thanks of an appointment to the Canadian Senate. Trudeau flunky Jim Coutts was expected to win in a walk. Ah well, "the best laid schemes," as they say.) He was my MP throughout my time at Trinity, and he was a great support in my time as Chair of the University of Toronto New Democrats. I last saw him several years ago, on a trip to Toronto, when I attended the service at Holy Trinity, Eaton's Centre.
Because of Dan's dementia and Alice's own issues, they need full time care. Yet ironically, there are many people in care homes (usually at lower levels of care) who, with the proper supports, could still be living in the community - and at less cost to the health system.
I've had parishioners who've been "warehoused" in hospitals or other facilities while they wait for appropriate placements. I'm well aware that a space opening up unsually depends (directly or indirectly) on some other person dying. In the process, our "golden years" become a nightmare. And while some facilities are lovely environments, others are horribly run down and positively depressing.
The people who live in these facilities deserve better - both better facilities and better allocation processes.