The WOW seminar on immigrant women’s nutrition and health was a step in the right direction towards closing the gap between academic researchers and service providers.

Josephine Etowa
Associate Professor, School of Nursing, University of Ottawa
We are very pleased to have done the “Opportunity Cost of Not Investing in Interpretation” report – it is so important to have clarity on these challenges and…

Hindia Mohamoud, Director, OLIP
The OLIP Council is committed to leadership.  In only a few years, we have a common vision and priorities, and are up to the task of implementing the Ottawa Immigration Strategy.

Salimatou Diallo
OLIP Council Vice Chair, Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario
I was happy to see integration to Algonquin territory and indigenous culture related programming in 2014 WOW. Please continue to involve local Aboriginal organisations and…

Linda Manning
WOW 2014 participant, Senior Fellow, University of Ottawa
The Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre is so happy to have joined the OLIP Health and Wellbeing Sector Table. It is clear that OLIP cares about immigrants and refugees and…

Wendy Tang, Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre
Canada has been shaped by people who came from all over the world to build this country. WOW offers a platform for us to celebrate this history and the future it will help…

Alex Munter, Chair of the OLIP Council and President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre
The work and expertise that OLIP brings to our community is so important as it helps us to build bridges and break down silos.  I look forward to our continued work together. 

Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa
My nomination is an indication that our hard work in building Canada is recognized. All we do is to serve the community in return for embracing us when we needed it.  

Mehdi Mahdavi
Ottawa Immigrant Entrepreneurship Awards Nominee
The City of Ottawa will continue to play a lead role in the implementation of the Ottawa Immigration Strategy, just as we did in the founding of OLIP.

Steve Desroches
City Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Ottawa
All the WOW events that I went to were great – WOW does give a sense of a community trying to improve its attraction and retention!

Caroline Andrew
Professor, University of Ottawa

Immigration and Seniors in Ottawa: Needs, Services, Issues

July 23, 2014

By Luisa Veronis

On June 23rd, 2014, during the Welcoming Ottawa Week (WOW), the Diversity and Equity Research Group (DERG) hosted an interactive seminar that focused on one of the least spoken aspects of immigration: immigration and seniors’ needs in Ottawa.

A knowledgeable Panel of speakers representing organizations with programs in the area of newcomer seniors’ services was invited to introduce the key issues and facilitate the discussion. The Panel members were: Jessica Lin and Miranda Chan from the Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre (OCCSC); Ana Maria Cruz-Valderrama from the Club Casa de los Abuelos in Ottawa; and Jacqueline Nyiramukwende from the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI). They provided a rich picture of the diverse profile of immigrant seniors in Ottawa, the services that currently exist for this particular demographic group, as well as the numerous challenges and issues regarding how to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.

A diverse group with diverse needs

All presenters stressed that immigrant seniors are a very diverse group and thus have very diverse needs. There are important considerations to understand the needs of a particular group, such as: age (the “young old”, the “old” and the “very old”); (dis)ability and mobility; ethnic and cultural background; knowledge of official languages; immigration category and age at arrival (e.g. those who came as skilled workers in their 50s vs. those who were sponsored at an old age by their adult children); and availability of family members in Canada among other things.

Because of these diverse profiles the range of required supports is equally diverse: to learn the language; to be educated about Canadian society and culture as well as their rights in Canada; to access appropriate or culturally sensitive health services; to access life skills workshops; to develop social networks and be taken out of their isolation; and to access mental health services. This list is not exhaustive but is an example of the types of supports required.

Overall, mental health is a significant issue for immigrant seniors. Many of them suffer from depression due to the cultural shock and in some cases isolation, but there are not enough psychologists that can tend to their needs. Another more general observation is that seniors need to stay physically active (depending on their levels and abilities). This is important for them not only to maintain good physical health, but also to make new friendships; to create new memories; to engage in a variety of activities and to develop their (new) interests in order to stay intellectually alert and avoid depression.

According to seminar participants, volunteering is a great way to help seniors remain active while also engaging with Canadian society. In fact, immigrant seniors are an untapped volunteer resource. For example, it is very useful to have younger and more able/mobile seniors help those who are older and less able/mobile.

Services in Ottawa

A quick mapping of the organizations, agencies and communities that provide services to immigrant seniors in Ottawa was conducted: CESOC, the Sikh community, the Arabic community, and OCISO are among the key providers.

The OCCSC in collaboration with the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS) has the most extensive program of services for immigrant seniors. Their activities include: social and health workshops; information sessions on Canada; English classes; picnics, outings; social clubs (singing groups, karaoke, dance parties); legal advice; a buddy system and telephone services; home support (care giver and cleaning); as well as counselling for seniors, occupational therapy and referral, mental health services.

The Club Casa de los Abuelos, on the other hand, is an entirely volunteer-based organization that has been operating since 2004 and was a pioneer of immigrant seniors’ services in Ottawa. Its services are limited to the Spanish-speaking population, and include help for seniors to connect and a variety of activities to maintain them active. Run with a minimum of funding thanks to the work of volunteers, the Club Casa de los Abuelos provides an extensive range of programs, including: assistance with housing, translation services, support for medical and hospital appointments, seminars on healthy eating for healthy living, recreational and socialization activities (outings, workshops, crafts, seasonal parties, a buddy system), 24 hours support and dedicated assistance to vulnerable seniors.

Challenges and issues

Inadequate funding approaches: One of the most significant challenges related to immigrant seniors is that of lack of funding in the system as a whole. Furthermore, small, community based volunteer organizations that are typically better set for providing services for newcomer seniors do not get funding; most of the funding goes to larger organizations and/or non-profit partnerships. Unfortunately, the government funding favours “mainstream” services that do not account for ethno-cultural and linguistic differences and sensitivities.

There is also the capacity challenge of small community based organizations to meet the donor accountability and reporting requirements. Because of the ethnic and cultural diversity of immigrant seniors, communities are best positioned to respond to the needs of their seniors. It is thus important to provide the resources and conditions necessary to empower the communities and build grassroots capacity in this area.

Responsibility: Another major issue is the question of responsibility: who is responsible for immigrant seniors? Who should provide for their needs? In the current context of funding cuts, most of the responsibility is downloaded to communities and families. Specifically, most of the work, caring for immigrant seniors, is done on a volunteer and unpaid basis (especially by women). But with an aging population that is growing in Canada, this trend is unsustainable and various levels of government will need to address the issue.

Awareness and lobbying: A number of presenters explained that it is important to raise more awareness about the needs of immigrant seniors and to lobby politicians. Some argued that immigrant seniors are often voiceless and that they are often treated as second class citizens. But because seniors represent a significant electoral group, a strategy that may be fruitful is to lobby politicians about their needs.

Lack of information: There is a lack of information about what services and programs are available for immigrant seniors in Ottawa, a challenge that is compounded by the language barriers that immigrant seniors face.

Intersectional research needed: Little is known about the issue of immigrant seniors because it is relatively new. There is need for more research in this area, particularly from an intersectional approach that will examine  “age,” “immigration” and “ethnicity” in combination in order to influence policy on immigrant seniors.

Some recommendations

  • Improve services for immigrant seniors in Ottawa, both in quantity and quality (e.g. seniors’ housing).
  • Introduce more workshops (e.g. on life skills), education (rights, health care system, how seniors can contribute to Canada), and social activities.
  • Promote volunteer work among immigrant seniors: those who are more able/mobile can help those who are less able/mobile. Volunteer work is also a great way for immigrant seniors to contribute to Canadian society.

Moving forward: WOW 2015

In conclusion, there is a need to continue our efforts focusing on immigrant seniors. Seminar participants discussed the possibility of organizing an event during the WOW 2015 that would focus on this important subject. Some ideas included offering a workshop for immigrant seniors (e.g. crafts, life skills, education and information, etc.) and/or a social event with participation of immigrant seniors from various communities. This way, seniors would be directly engaged and be part of WOW!

If you have questions, ideas or comments regarding the findings and proposed ideas in this blog, please contact Professor Luisa Veronis:

Photo: Club Casa de los Abuelos Volunteers’ Team in company of Yasir Naqvi, MPP, who recognized the volunteers for their commitment and selflessness in serving isolated seniors. 10 Anniversary Celebration. (Foto Eco Latino)

DERG (Diversity and Equity Research Group) is a joint initiative of OLIP (Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership) and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa. Collaboratively established in 2012, it is dedicated to advancing the understanding of the issues of diversity and equity through interdisciplinary research and dialogue bridging scholars, practitioners, and policy makers. As a perfect platform for advancing its mandate, DERG has hosted seminars during the Welcoming Ottawa Week (WOW) 2013 and 2014 editions. In 2013 DERG presented a seminar called “Attraction and Integration of Francophone Immigrants in Ottawa” and in 2014 drew attention to the issues of immigrant seniors in Ottawa.