Gulf Islands Driftwood
Voice of the Southern Gulf Islands

Vital Signs report reveals aging seniors population

Families seek recreation, education opportunities

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The Salt Spring Foundation has offered the community a snapshot into its make-up and the unique factors shaping life on the island with the 2017 Salt Spring Island Vital Signs report.

Released Tuesday afternoon, the much-anticipated report offers statistics on a wide range of data, from work and economy to arts and culture and the environment. The island’s population anchors the study, with a breakdown into age groups, employment, housing and health care among other categories.

“The board of the Salt Spring Foundation is proud to provide this valuable tool as a resource for residents, community groups, businesses and all levels of government. The report will also inform the foundation’s grant making, helping us focus programs and projects that will have the biggest impact on community needs,” a message from board chair Kees Ruurs states in part.

Data was collected from a community survey in March and April, with 556 responses submitted, and reported alongside official government statistics. Not surprisingly, the report found that seniors make up a large part of the community — 3,230 people or 30.6 per cent of the population. This nearly doubles the national average of 16.9 per cent and far exceeds the 18.3 per cent provincial average.

The report finds that although the population aged 65-74 is expected to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 10 years, the population aged 75 and older will grow significantly — by 88 per cent. Salt Spring’s life expectancy in 2015 was 84.43 years, compared to 82.63 in B.C.

The Better at Home program offers light housework, visits and van excursions to 250 seniors, but care facilities may not be adequate to meet the aging population’s needs. There are currently 50 residential care beds, 70 supported care beds and 27 assisted living suites at various facilities on the island. The senior poverty rate is 13.5 per cent, nearly equal to the provincial rate of 13.9 per cent.

On the flip side, the number of children being born on Salt Spring is lower than provincial and national averages. The 1,730 children living on Salt Spring make up 16.4 per cent of the population, compared to 22.4 of Canadians and 20.4 of British Columbians. The local birth rate in 2015 was five live births per 1,000 people, compared to 8.4 on Vancouver Island and 9.6 provincially.

According to a sample statement, families like raising children in Salt Spring’s safe and natural environment. Of the total survey respondents who said they were considering leaving Salt Spring, though, 15 per cent said it was because their children wanted more access to sports and recreation activities, and another eight named education opportunities for their kids as the reason.

Children on Salt Spring may be living in slightly better circumstances than elsewhere in the province. The child poverty rate in the Capital Regional District is 16.3 per cent, compared to 20.4 per cent across B.C., while 29 per cent of School District 64 kindergarten students are considered vulnerable learners, compared to 32.2 per cent provincially.

Housing was listed as the greatest concern about living on Salt Spring for nearly half of the survey respondents. The 2016 homeless count recorded 83 homeless people. The rental availability rate is expected to be less than 1.5 per cent in 2018, while there were 306 short-term vacation rentals listed on Airbnb as of Aug. 1.

The most recent National Housing Survey in 2011 found 56.3 per cent of renters and 44.2 per cent of homeowners on Salt Spring were spending 31 per cent or more of their income on housing. The affordability rate is 30 per cent or less of household income.

Other statistics show that while chronic disease rates are lower in general on the Gulf islands than the rest of the province, Lady Minto Hospital has a high number of emergency room visits with 534.4 visits per 1,000 residents compared to 450 across the Island Health region. Gulf Islands residents also purchased far more alcohol than the provincial average. The average island resident consumed 795 drinks in 2015, while the provincial average was 522.

Other sections of the report dealing with quality of life outline the number of arts organizations and published authors, community group participation, religious practice, food and agriculture, and recreation. Statistics also cover work and economy, education, the income gap and the environment.

For more information or to see the final report, visit ssifoundation.ca or contact the office at 250-537-8305.

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