Calgary elder abuse shelter seeing uptick in calls during holiday season

Click to play video: 'Elder abuse on the rise in Alberta, shelter at capacity'
Elder abuse on the rise in Alberta, shelter at capacity
It's an uncomfortable reality in Alberta: seniors being abused at the hands of a caregiver, a spouse or their children. There are more Albertans in need of elder abuse shelters than there are rooms available. As Jill Croteau reports, the problem is worse over the holiday season – Dec 13, 2022

An overseas trip to visit family has left a Ukranian senior homeless.

Larysa Sotina arrived in Calgary to visit her children late last year.

“Something was going not good in our relationship. And then it was broken,” Sotina told Global News.

She was asked to move out, but being new to the province, Sotina didn’t have a support network to lean on outside her family.

It wasn’t until Sotina turned up at the emergency department being treated for injuries consistent with physical abuse that she was able to find a way out. Police connected her with the Kerby Centre’s senior abuse shelter.

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The Kerby Centre operates a nine-bed shelter, with one earmarked for the CPS elder abuse response team.

Shelter manager Mari-Anne Godlonton said it’s very rare for the shelter to not be at capacity.

“There’s never been a thing where we don’t have enough clients,” Godlonton said.

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And the Kerby Centre has seen another troubling trend: abuse.

“For a lot of our seniors, it’s not only physical abuse and emotional abuse and psychological abuse, but a big part with our seniors, with a lot of seniors that we see is financial abuse,” Godlonton said. Neglect and abandonment are two other types of elder abuse.

The 24-hour elder abuse resource line the Kerby runs also fields many calls about abuse.

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“We see an uptick in those calls because Christmas is difficult, Christmas is hard. You’re around your family or you’re not around your family. And so at Christmas time there’s lots of feelings and lots of emotions and crying and sadness,” Godlonton added.

Sotina said she was also subjected to abuse from her family.

“Physically, emotionally and mentally. Yes, all of this,” she said.

“When clients come here, it’s to provide a safe and secure place for them to be, to get started with their life again,” Godlonton said.

Seniors usually stay for a maximum of 90 days, at which point longer-term shelter is found for them. But that’s become an increasingly difficult task.

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The last three years have been especially tough for the centre to serve Calgary-area seniors.

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“Since COVID for the last three years, every year we’ve turned away at least 300 seniors because when they needed a bed, we were full,” Kerby Centre CEO Larry Mathieson said. “It’s awful, to be honest.”

A recent report from the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters said more than 11,500 women and seniors had to be turned away from shelters across the province because the shelters were at capacity. Only one in six callers were able to be provided shelter.

The Kerby Centre is part of the provincial network of shelters, the first purpose-built elder abuse shelter in North America. With more funding, it could expand its shelter spaces to 14.

“Corporate donations and individual donations will help us fund the beds,” Mathieson said. “Throughout the year, the whole shelter network is always in need of financial support and volunteer support.

“Definitely during this time of year, we can use your help.”

With nowhere else to turn, Sotina was fortunate to find assistance at the Kerby Centre to start a new life, “it’s beginning from zero.”

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And after conversations with other Kerby residents, Sotina said they all have the same noble goal.

“To live later on very good. And to try to forget what happened.”

For more information about elder abuse, resources, or to inquire about shelter space, call the Elder Abuse Resource Line at -403-705-3250.

If you suspect a case of elder abuse, call the CPS non-emergency line at 403-266-1234.

— With files from Jill Croteau, Global News

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