Many of us take for granted the convenience of having access to a phone – whether it is a cell phone or landline – but the reality for many low-income Vancouver seniors is that having any type of phone in their home is a luxury they cannot afford. Which begs the question – how do they call 911 in the event of an emergency?
The Vancouver Police Department has always prioritized caring for vulnerable seniors in our community, and a new initiative is now making it even easier for seniors to access emergency care when they need it most. The new Cell Phones for Seniors program launched in September with an overwhelming response from seniors and their family members. This initiative provides emergency 911 cell phones to isolated seniors facing financial hardship. There is absolutely no upfront cost to them, nor does the phone require a monthly cell phone plan.
VPD Constable Dan Cameron is behind this new initiative. He reached out to the Vancouver Police Foundation earlier this year for funding after identifying that additional, tangible safety tactics are needed for Vancouver’s aging population, especially in this financial climate. A few months later, the trial of the Cell Phones For Seniors program became a reality.
“Access to 911 is now accessible to seniors in a way that perhaps wasn’t available to them before, either due to cost or avoidance due to confusing technology,” explains Cst. Cameron. “The impact of providing them with a phone they would otherwise not be able to afford will significantly improve their safety and well-being. This gives the ability to call 911 at a moment’s notice without the need for a costly cell phone plan.”
Seniors are encouraged to use these phones for any emergency they might encounter, including falls or health crisis, criminal violence or domestic abuse, and even during extreme weather events where they find themselves unsafe and/or in medical distress. The phones are also meant to be as simple as possible to use.
“We understand that seniors often find technology challenging, which is why the model of phone that was selected is basic and easy to operate,” explains Cst. Cameron. “These particular phones have a 14-day standby time, which means a senior does not need to worry about charging the device every day, or even every week. It also includes large, easy to read keys, so that calls to 911 are not difficult compared to a touch screen phone.”
The chargers that are provided are also simple and intentional. They utilize USB-C plugs, so the cable can plug into the device easily, regardless of orientation. Upon pick up, VPD staff and volunteers also walked seniors through the process of using the phone, from start to finish, with each person who received one. Overall, this particular device is meant to be less intimidating to learn than a smart phone and will ideally appeal to a generation less likely to lean on technology for assistance.
When the trial launched at the VPD headquarters in September, all 40 phones and chargers were claimed within the first 24 hours by seniors in need; but more than 100 individuals were turned away once the available phones were out of stock. While it was unfortunate that so many seniors went without, it demonstrated the immense need for such a resource.
Cst. Cameron and his team got to work right away, sourcing more devices, again looking to the Vancouver Police Foundation for financial backing. And again, the VPF proudly committed additional funding for the Cell Phone for Seniors program – this time for an additional 140 emergency phones.
The Cell Phones for Seniors program is also committed to inclusivity and cultural sensitivity, recognizing the diverse linguistic landscape of the community it serves. To ensure effective communication and accessibility, the program was promoted through posters in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Punjabi, reflecting the linguistic diversity of the local population. This approach aims to bridge language barriers and foster a deeper understanding of the initiative among seniors from different cultural backgrounds. In anticipation of further inclusivity, plans are underway to expand language options on posters, acknowledging that diverse communication needs exist within the community. By embracing a multilingual approach, the program strives to reach a broader audience and facilitate better comprehension among seniors, fostering a more inclusive and culturally sensitive support system.
We are very excited to announce that in early December, Cst Cameron and his team oversaw the distribution of 100 additional emergency phones for pick up at several Community Policing Centres throughout Vancouver, one in each District of the City. Response from recipients and their families has been overwhelmingly positive.
Cst. Cameron has also established a valuable partnership with BC Housing to address the unique needs of seniors facing mobility challenges. Through this collaboration, 40 phones were made available to specific seniors in need who may find it difficult to attend a Community Policing Center location and acquire a phone independently, with a number of phones already being handed out. Recognizing the barriers posed by mobility issues, this initiative ensures that seniors who might otherwise be excluded from accessing essential communication tools are not left behind. By joining forces with BC Housing, Cst. Cameron is actively working to bridge the gap and enhance the quality of life for these seniors, enabling them to stay connected and engaged with their communities despite physical limitations. He looks forward to furthering this relationship with BC housing, and other organizations, as this program continues to see positive growth.
“Expanding the program’s reach provides reassurance and peace of mind for so many vulnerable seniors and their families, and we are proud to play a role in that,” says Cst. Cameron.
The reality of this initiative is that it WILL save lives, and your ongoing support of the Vancouver Police Foundation ensures that VPD officer-initiated community outreach programs, such as Cell Phones for Seniors, can not only continue, but also expand and have even greater impact.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.