Municipal “angels” to the rescue of isolated people

Many older people, isolated at home, are unaware of the community and social services that could support their well-being and independence. Could courtesy home visits prevent human tragedies? Municipalities in Lanaudière are banking on door-to-door sales.

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in September, Sylvie Cameron and Daniel Laliberté ring the bell at a small apartment building in L’Assomption. The front door unlocks and a gray-haired lady approaches, looking suspicious. Visitors then explain that they are part of the Kindness in Action project, whose goal is to inform residents about available community resources and to inquire about their condition.

As interest grew on her face, a small group of seniors, who had come out of their homes to see what was happening, gathered behind her. “It’s worth watching.” I’m glad I opened. We are all elderly people here and we have needs,” says Danielle Brousseau, while Daniel Laliberté distributes gifts, namely insulated bags in which there are information leaflets, a pencil and a can opener.

Coughing, Mme Brousseau says she and her husband are having difficulty doing housework, but they don’t know who to turn to for help. “I have chronic asthma, and my husband has difficulty walking. Maintenance has decreased significantly. Sometimes I look at it and say to myself: “My God, this can’t be happening, this isn’t our place.” Sometimes I want to cry,” says the lady of the golden age, her eyes full of water.

“Do you know about home support? asks Sylvie Cameron, a retired social worker with short-cropped red hair and a soft, empathetic voice. “I can take two minutes to talk to you about it. »

After noting down her contact details, the volunteer promises Mme Brousseau that she will receive a follow-up call. With her colleague, she then heads to the next address.

A collective project

It’s to get in touch with vulnerable and isolated people like Mme Brousseau that five municipalities have agreed to participate in a pilot project. Between October 2021 and June 2023, 12 tours were carried out in L’Assomption, Repentigny, Charlemagne, L’Épiphanie and Saint-Sulpice. The project, implemented by the Quebec Association for the Defense of the Rights of Retired and Pre-retired Persons of L’Assomption, is extended until March.

The routes are determined by local police officers or firefighters, who know the socio-demographic profiles of the various neighborhoods. Volunteers first distribute door hangers to warn residents that they will receive a visit. Two by two, they return a few days or weeks later to ring all the addresses. They are accompanied by a representative of the police or fire department, which encourages citizens to trust them.

Around 40% of the 2,558 doors opened, according to the assessment carried out on behalf of the Table des préfets de Lanaudière, which pays the salary of the project manager, Daniel Laliberté. Volunteers identified 84 situations of “potential vulnerability”, 47 of which were followed up or referred to relevant services. The problems observed concerned mental or physical health, isolation, relational difficulties or difficulty meeting basic needs.

Helpless in the face of a rent increase

Louise Boucher, a resident of Charlemagne, is one of the people who received support. When she received an unexpected visit, she opened up about the stress that was eating away at her.

“An angel sent me kind people. I told them that I didn’t know where to go,” says the nearly 60-year-old woman, who suffers from emphysema and back pain caused by a car accident. “My rent was up $60, it had just been sold. I could no longer afford to stay here. »

It was Daniel Laliberté who followed up on his file. He encouraged her to apply to a residence in Repentigny which offers low rents. She will finally be able to move there in October.

Mme Boucher found it difficult to believe that good fortune could have fallen on her without her asking for anything. “It’s extraordinary,” maintains the woman who says she has “suffered it all her life”, particularly while raising her two daughters alone.

The duty also met a septuagenarian suffering from essential tremor, Louise Lemieux, who was convinced by Sylvie Cameron to get more help at home, especially for housework.

The enthusiasm of local elected officials

The mayor of Repentigny, Nicolas Dufour, says he has this project close to his heart. “Even if we only helped nine people in our town, for me, it’s priceless. It also has a preventive effect, which is difficult to calculate,” he says. He hopes other municipalities will follow the example. He encourages Quebec to be part of the solution by involving more integrated health and social services centers in monitoring identified people.

Municipal councilor Josée Paquette, for her part, participated in all the tours in her municipality, Charlemagne. These visits raise solutions and avenues for reflection related to issues that affect more and more citizens, such as aging, access to housing, homelessness and the integration of immigrants.

Scientific director of the Center for Research and Expertise in Social Gerontology, Patrik Marier views this type of initiative favorably. However, he calls on the provincial government so that more resources are invested to “increase the presence on the ground with the elderly”. “Why, when we talk about social needs for seniors, is it always volunteers? » asks the researcher.

“I would suggest finding ways to unlock funds and resources for municipalities so that they can play this kind of social role,” suggested Mr. Marier, also citing the problem of homelessness.

Indeed, Daniel Laliberté notes that it is difficult to recruit diligent volunteers. At the pace the project is going, it will not be possible to knock on the doors of the majority of the 128,000 citizens of the MRC de L’Assomption, nor of its 25,000 seniors. For the future, its artisans are evaluating the possibility of focusing on certain even more relevant places, such as private residences for seniors.

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