Push on for ‘culturally appropriate’ seniors homes

June 28, 2016

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

“Just a few” of the more than 260 residents of Guru Nanak Niwas seniors facility can speak English, says Saroj Sood.

It’s why the government-financed seniors residence in north Surrey needs staff who speak Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and other South Asian languages.

Guru Nanak Niwas residents live in one of the few seniors homes in Canada that advocates consider “culturally sensitive.” That extends to food — “food is most important,” says Sood, an 85-year-old immigrant from India. The menu posted in the dining room on this day promises residents a lunch of goat curry, roti, tofu sabzi and kheer.

Even though Sikhism is highlighted in Guru Nanak Niwas’ name and its décor — such as the large exterior wall mural declaring “We Remember” the 1914 Komagatu Maru incident — the seniors’ facility is also home to South Asian immigrants of other religions, including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.

Funded largely by provincial and federal governments, Guru Nanak Niwas was the brainchild of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS).

Now PICS is one of a range of B.C. immigrant-support groups pressuring governments to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build more ethnic-specific facilities, including for Muslim and Chinese immigrants.

Some critics say taxpayers should not be paying for such ethnically-specific seniors homes.

But Sood and Charan Gill, the dynamic founder of PICS, insist there is a third major reason, in addition to language and cuisine, to create residences specifically for South Asian and other visible-minority seniors: Widespread elder abuse in the immigrant population.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Gill, 80.

“We hear stories of financial and emotional abuse of elders every day here. But no one wants to talk about it,” he says, noting that members of immigrant communities are often ashamed their co-ethnics are not properly taking care of their elders.

Even though Statistics Canada figures show South Asian grandparents in Canada are eight times more likely to live with their children and grandchildren than ethnic Japanese and Caucasian grandparents, many of Metro’s 250,000 South Asians still yearn to live separate from their offspring.

“Given a chance, these seniors would never leave their homes because of the strong sense of family and affinity towards their culture,” says PICS communications officer Shruti Prakash-Joshi.

“(But) PICS works very closely with seniors and we are witness to some horrific stories relating to financial and other abuse.”

PICS is lobbying the federal and provincial governments for more than $45 million to build a new “Diversity Village” on property it has bought in the Cloverdale area of Surrey. The 140-bed facility would have different sections for seniors of different ethnic backgrounds.

Meanwhile, leaders among Metro Vancouver’s 400,000-member ethnic Chinese population are also pushing for more of their own “culturally appropriate” seniors homes, which would employ Chinese-speaking staff.

As well, Muslim leaders in Burnaby and elsewhere are pressing the province for specialized seniors homes for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.

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