SafetyAid, funded by the province and run by Age & Opportunity with help from the Winnipeg Police Service, was launched earlier this year by Attorney General Gord Mackintosh and Diane McGifford, minister responsible for seniors.
The pilot program consists of two parts: A team of safety auditors who do free inspections and minor safety upgrades; and a forgivable loan program called Home Adaptation for Seniors Independence.
"The program is to do safety audits of seniors' homes, 65 and over," said Eric Mellon, Age & Opportunity's SafetyAid project co-ordinator. "When we do safety audits, we do a walk around the house looking at do they have bars on the windows, etc. You know, think like a criminal.
"We try to look at many things. The main thrust of our program is to keep seniors living in their homes longer. We want to keep them safe and independent."
The SafetyAid team makes recommendations on crime prevention upgrades and will do minor work for free, including installing deadbolt locks and stronger screws in door frames to prevent break-ins. The team also provides peepholes, swing bars, extra address numbers, batteries for smoke detectors and wrap-around reinforcements for locks and doors, and hands out brochures on crime prevention and various government assistance programs to help seniors improve home security.
"Older Manitobans deserve to feel secure and less vulnerable to crime in their own homes," said Mackintosh. "While no house can be completely burglar-proof, there are ways to improve personal safety at home."
The Winnipeg Police Service annual report for 2002 shows that crime is down across the city, although Mellon says seniors still make up a significant portion of the victims of home invasions and other property crimes.
Patrol Sgt. Michele Benoit, of the police crime prevention unit, said statistics on crime against seniors aren't immediately available, but she added that the SafetyAid program still fills a need.
"For seniors, it may be the fear of crime that's as important as the incidence of crime," she said.
In phase one of the program, the SafetyAid Team will work with low-income seniors living in Winnipeg Police districts 1 and 3 covering the North End, West Kildonan, city centre and the west end. But one of the priorities will be low-income seniors who have been victims of break-ins or home invasions all across the city, who will be contacted and can access the program now.
In phase two, working with the RCMP and other agencies, the program will be expanded to other regions of the province in 2004.
"We're targeting districts 1 and 3 because that's the highest crime rate," said Mellon. "The ones that take priority are in districts 1 and 3, but we'll go to Charleswood, we'll go to Transcona."
Mellon said the SafetyAid auditors have checked about 50 homes in the last month and found a wide range of security levels. "It's been a mixed bag," he said. "Some are so good at safety proofing their homes that we should have a video camera with us. They're doing things we've never thought of."
Still others need help. "Garages are a big problem," Mellon said. "Garages are so vulnerable. They're farther away from the house and have bushes growing around them. They also have single pane windows... and people store their tools in the garage, so once (criminals) are in there, they can use the tools to cause further damage."
Safety audits are available to low-income seniors, defined as those 65 years old and over with single incomes below $20,000 annually, or couples with incomes below $25,000.
To arrange for a visit from the SafetyAid team, call Age and Opportunity, Inc. at 956-6440.