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Montreal seniors voice concerns at city meeting

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A capacity audience attends a public consultation on Montreal’s plan to become more “age-friendly,” held at the Cummings Centre on Feb. 26. (Janice Arnold photo)

Difficulty getting around – whether on foot, by public transit or finding parking – topped the myriad of concerns expressed by seniors at a public consultation meeting held by the City of Montreal on Feb. 26.

A capacity audience of close to 300 gathered at the Cummings Centre, to tell municipal officials how they think Montreal can improve the lives of its senior citizens.

The event was hastily added to a series of meetings the city scheduled to gather public input for its 2018-2020 Municipal Action Plan for Seniors. The Plante administration received widespread criticism for not originally intending to hold consultations in the west end, or in English.

This crowd had plenty to say about icy and badly angled sidewalks, stairs and ramps in front of municipal buildings that are not cleared of snow, traffic signals that are hard to see and/or hear and too short for pedestrians to cross in time, and the inadequacy of public transit.

Applause erupted when one woman spoke of “two or three inches of snow for weeks on end” on city sidewalks. Even the stretch in front of the Cummings Centre on Westbury Avenue was covered with ice for a long time, one person said.

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Also frequently mentioned was the perceived lack of municipal services offered in English.

Nadia Bastien, director of intercultural relations for the city, presented the broad outlines of the plan, which focuses on making municipal facilities and services more accessible and streets and public spaces safer for seniors, as well as ensuring that seniors are better represented in municipal affairs.

A confidential survey was distributed, asking participants to choose their top two priorities out of a list that included such broader goals as “promoting the active citizenship and social engagement of seniors” and “raising awareness of seniors’ circumstances” among the general public.

Karen Boloten, whose mobility is restricted due to an accident, said that she would like to see more handicapped parking spots on streets and better maintenance and surveillance of those that exist.

She said she had to walk half a kilometre to get to the meeting from where she parked.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante in 2016. ANDRÉ QUERRY PHOTO

Someone else suggested the creation of reserved seniors’ parking spaces that could be used regardless of whether someone has a disability.

Others spoke of metro escalators that don’t work and crowded buses. A few suggested the city should provide free shuttle buses for seniors to get to hospitals and clinics in the area. Some called for more benches and better lighting in public spaces.

More than one participant spoke of the sense of isolation and frustration that anglophone seniors feel because many city workers can’t, or won’t, communicate in English.

“Some of the police and public servants have an attitude (towards English speakers),” one woman said. “They either ignore you, or can’t be bothered, or feel they do not have the necessary fluency. It’s a form of elder abuse.”

Others said that a significant number of older people are not comfortable with computers and they would like information “on paper and to speak to a person, a human being who can explain things.”

They either ignore you, or can’t be bothered.

Copies of the survey were collected, along with the forms handed out to gather any questions the participants had. Cummings Centre volunteers will be inputting all of the data into the city’s database, along with summaries of the discussions.

The survey will continue to be available until the March 15 deadline, Bastien said. Anyone who lives or works in Montreal, regardless of their age, can fill it out. Those living in suburbs, such as Côte-St-Luc, are also invited to take the survey.

The English and French versions can both be found online. Paper copies are also available and the questionnaire may even be answered verbally by calling 438-320-1298.

According to the latest timetable, the city will table its action plan in early May.