Restoring hope for seniors in need

Renee Wetselaar  

Seniors are one of the fastest growing cohorts in Canada. 

It is estimated by 2041, 25% of Canadians will be 55 years or older. Rates of seniors living in poverty are also on the rise. This is the evidence gathered from the latest census reports.

St. Matthew’s House (SMH) Executive Director Renée Wetselaar noticed this trend too. For 52 years SMH has served seniors in the heart of Hamilton’s vulnerable neighborhoods. Over the past 10 years their trends also show an increase in overall poverty rates. 

Seniors living in Hamilton neighbourhoods characterized by low socioeconomic status, also known as “Code Red” neighbourhoods, face the highest rates of poverty in this community.

SMH2 pool
As a not-for-profit, St. Matthew’s House supports seniors of the community as needed, including a place for a game of pool. Photos: St. Matthew’s House

In these vulnerable neighbourhoods the average age of death is 65. In the rest of Hamilton, it is over 80. 

SMH supports seniors 55+ in Code Red neighbourhoods who are at imminent risk of homelessness to remain housed. They work with homeless seniors to find safe, sustainable housing. Many of the seniors SMH supports have multiple health problems such as diabetes, mobility limitations, strokes and mental health issues. 

The combination of poverty, literacy issues, physical or mental health issues, the web of healthcare service systems that are difficult to navigate, compounded by isolation can be lethal. 

As Renée shares, “When I first came to St. Matthew’s House last summer, I met Joe. He was waiting his turn in line at the foodbank, so we started chatting. He had just been discharged from the hospital and was trying to figure out what to do next. He didn’t know much about what was available and wasn’t feeling well enough to sort it out. So, I introduced him to one of our vulnerable senior’s workers. It was determined he was losing out on a significant amount of benefits available to seniors. He also needed help with his taxes. In short turn, we were able to double Joe’s monthly income, connect him to health supports and improve his living conditions.” 

Affordable housing in Hamilton is in high demand. St. Matthew’s works to ensure that once a client has a decent place to live, they can attain a standard of living that will help them beat the statistic of only living until they are 65. 

With the support of individual donors, foundations, businesses and volunteers, breakfast and lunch are served to over 200 of the most vulnerable seniors Monday through Friday. 

SMH! playing cards
For 52 years St. Matthew’s House has served seniors in the heart of Hamilton’s vulnerable neighborhoods by providing a wide variety of services and programs. Photos: St. Matthew’s House

On weekends food packages are provided and access to case management support is available. 

“I remember meeting Mary last August,” Renée shared. “I noticed Mary holding her arm against her chest. When I asked her what the matter was, she said she had fallen at home and now her arm was sore. I alerted a team member and within an hour she was in a taxi on her way to a health clinic. When I visited again in September, her arm was almost healed, and she was enjoying a hot lunch.”

St. Matthew’s House is there for the immediate crisis of homelessness and the longer-term cycle of isolation and poor health once a senior is housed. The support team follows clients for up to two years ensuring the supports and housing they need are in place. 

As a not-for-profit the support of the community is needed. As Renée reflected, “Hope and dignity can be restored to those aging in Hamilton”.


Donations can be made at stmatthewshouse.ca or droped off at 414 Barton St E, Hamilton, or support your local seniors outreach program. Contact Renée below to arrange a St. Matthew’s House visit to your parish or group. Renée Wetselaar is the Executive Director of St. Matthew’s House.