Growing up, my family was close. Over the course of my childhood, many extended relatives, including my grandmother and paternal grandfather, lived with us as they neared the end of their lives and needed a little extra help. I distinctly remember when I was about six years old, we moved to live with my Aunt Lovina. Her dementia made the daily tasks of living more difficult, and we were lucky that we could help support her during this phase of life.
As I got older, my siblings and I continued to support our parents in the same ways they supported theirs. While I appreciated time spent with my family members, not everyone is able to provide care for their loved ones as they age. Particularly, when times have been tough, and money is running out. That’s when our older neighbors need a little extra help.
It is well known that our state faces the challenge of a large aging population that is outpacing birthrates. Windham is beginning to see this trend impact our community. Ensuring that we have affordable housing for seniors is a crucial step we can take as a town to help ease the burden families and individuals face during this time.
Windham currently has several affordable communities that provide varying degrees of services and support to our aging neighbors. Unfortunately, many of these facilities have long wait lists or have closed their wait lists entirely due to outpaced demand. Supporting facilities that truly provide a sense of belonging and community and that encourage the continuation of the neighborliness we all know and love about Windham is extremely important.
I have lived in Windham for over 35 years and have seen tremendous support and comradery among our residents. In 2007, when I co-founded the non-profit Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors serving residents of Windham, I witnessed these characteristics firsthand. Oil prices were high, and folks had a hard time getting by. There were many older members of the community living in crisis because they were living on a fixed income that does not fluctuate as living expenses change. The price of gas went up but there wasn’t any more room in the budget to devote to heating their homes. We wanted to find a way to help them get through the red tape in times of emergencies. It’s made a big difference and is a true example of a neighborly venture.
We have always been a town dedicated to helping each other out. It’s important to me that we preserve and capitalize on that energy in Windham as we address the needs of our increasingly aging community.
On March 10th and 12th members of the Westbrook Development Corporation and Westbrook Housing Authority will be visiting Windham to discuss the need for, and possibilities of, improving our affordable housing offerings in Windham. This will be an opportunity for folks to express their concerns and discuss what options Windham has for improving its affordable housing offerings.
I’m lucky that my three boys have all stayed within a 20-mile radius after leaving home, but I don’t want to have to burden them with caring for my wife and me as we get older. I’m hopeful that our community is up to the task of evolving as our demographics change so that when the time comes, our older folks are well supported.
Rep. Bryant is serving in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Windham in House District 24. He is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government. Mark.Bryant@legislature.maine.gov