Aid for elderly in crisis

By Mike Dinsdale

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Age Concern Whangarei fears it will have to start slashing vital services for the district's elderly as it faces a $250,000 funding shortfall.

The organisation's president Beryl Wilkinson is in a spin trying to juggle dwindling resources while maintaining services for the elderly - she says it's a big struggle and something will have to give.

Ms Wilkinson said she needed about $350,000 a year to run the operation - "and that's running things as prudently as possible and accounting for every dollar" - but had only raised $100,000 for this year.

She said 16.9 per cent of Whangarei's population is aged 65 or over - one of the highest rates in the country - and Age Concern provided services to anyone who needed it, including home maintenance, health promotion/education, field work, dedicated carer relief, resources, advice and advocacy.

Age Concern did have two contracts with the Northland District Health Board but one (SCOPE, Supporting Community wellness for Older People in their Environment) had been cancelled and the other (home maintenance) was under review.

The rest of the organisation's funding comes from fundraising and grants, but there was little money forthcoming from community grant organisations.

"We got nothing from Lotteries this year and we've had a lot of 'Dear John' letters this year from the other [funding bodies]. You apply for $16,000 for a particular programme or service, but get $1000, which is nowhere near enough to carry out the service. And any Government funding we get is only for up to 50 per cent of the total cost of the service so we still have to fundraise for the rest," Ms Wilkinson said.

"It's Government policy to have 'Age in place' - caring for the elderly in their own homes as much as possible - but there's little money for groups like ours that helps the elderly live in their own homes longer."

At the same time as funding was drying up, demand for Age Concern's services was growing, with 8644 inquiries made to the Whangarei group last year and 5800 follow-up contacts annually.

The organisation had 150 volunteers and 15 part-time staff to carry out the work.

Ms Wilkinson feared that Age Concern Whangarei would become merely an administration centre providing limited information, with little practical help or advice or meaningful programmes for clients.

"Age Concern is a lifeline for many of our older community and it's people on low or fixed incomes that most need us. We don't want to reduce our services, but we may just have to."

Once reserves were used, things would quickly become dire, she said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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