The issue of icy sidewalks forcing fearful seniors to stay in their homes was front and centre at Lake Cowichan town council Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Don Beldessi, president of King George Seniors Affordable Housing, the operator of the Evergreen Place seniors housing on South Shore Road, said he’s worried that town sidewalks and even roads are not being cleared.
“We are really concerned during the recent snow and freezing rain events about the icy road conditions of Renfrew [Avenue] and the icy sidewalks through town that are adjacent to Evergreen Place,” he told Lake Cowichan town council Jan. 24.
Evergreen Place has done its part to ensure ice is removed and sidewalks are clear, as part of its bylaw-driven responsibilities, “but the same cannot be said of the connecting sidewalks when our elderly tenants walk to the mail, to doctors’ appointments, banking, shopping, seniors centre and other activities.
“Once they were off our cleared sidewalks they were on their own and sometimes are forced to travel on neglected and icy sidewalks and roadways that were dangerous,” Beldessi said. “It doesn’t matter what direction they travel.”
The problem mushroomed as time passed without the cold letting up.
“Some remained housebound because of fear of falling or injury. We have heard many concerns from our residents and visitors about the dangerous, slippery conditions. We have had several falls and near misses reported to our office.”
It’s pushed relatives of Evergreen Place seniors to take action.
“Some families even asked their seniors to stay inside and they would come and pick them up so they could go on their regular activities where they would have generally walked,” he said.
Then Beldessi gave examples of some of the problems he knew about.
“There was a 90-year-old, one of our tenants, who was headed over to the credit union [nearby]. Once she got off our sidewalk, she had to go on King George Street because the sidewalk to the Island Savings and at it weren’t done. And when she did get there, she needed assistance to lift her walker over a snow bank.
“We had many reports about the icy bridge conditions and pretty well right to where the little drug store is. We also had to rescue a 90-year-old resident who was stuck on the bridge in the ice and who was fearful of falling. We had to send somebody out there to help them across the bridge,” he said.
Beldessi said such examples only called more attention to the “dangerous and unacceptable conditions our seniors and the general public had to endure. In some cases, it was inaction by corporations and other landowners present and vacant.”
He was particularly upset about Renfew Avenue, which connects King George Street to Coronation Avenue.
“I took some pictures on Jan. 15. It was neglected. It was a sheet of ice. There were a couple of little trails where the cars went on and we had lots of people who were going to their cars, who had to hold onto them.
“We’ve had [motorists] who dropped off their riders in our basement because it was too slippery out there. It was just really, really, really dangerous.
“I’m not here to criticize or anything but what we are asking is about the people that didn’t do their sidewalks: some action needs to be taken on them.
He described what’s done at the seniors’ homes.
“Olson Manor and us, we were out there at 5 o’clock in the morning clearing it up. I’d like to see more attention paid to Renfrew. It’s a busy thoroughfare; it goes to the seniors centre, to the mail. I had to chip out a walkway so a mobility scooter could get across the street to his car. It was all glare ice.
“We have a plan of action and we’d like to know what your plan of action is. We realize it’s an odd year; we got that real cold weather. But we don’t want to see a repeat of this again.
“It’s not fair to our seniors. We don’t want to see them housebound. We want to see them out and active but we don’t want to see them falling either,” he concluded.
Coun. Tim McGonigle said he expected council to be discussing the recent sidewalk problems soon “just to validate if there were any tickets handed out. As you say it was an anomaly and a cold snap with freezing and thawing added to the danger.”
Mayor Ross Forrest reminded Beldessi that Lake Cowichan faces a unique challenge when there’s ice around.
“In our town, we don’t salt. That makes it a little different. It’s not in our policy to salt our roads. But the only salt you’ll see is on the main road because [Mainroad South Island Contracting, who do the highway through town and the highway to Youbou as well as Highway 18] will use salt and brine. We don’t. So, it’s not just Renfrew Street; it’s all our streets where you won’t see salt,” he told Beldessi.
Carolyne Austin clarified that the town uses sand, instead.
Beldessi asked if there was some way the town could make some sand available to his facility and Forrest replied, “I can’t say positively but I’m sure something could be arranged. We’ll definitely ask that question.”