By Sue Tiffin
The County of Haliburton will fund $20,000 of a rural transportation pilot project operated by Point in Time Centre for Children, Youth and Parents.
Marg Cox, Point in Time executive director, approached county council on May 25 to request the funding assistance for a transportation program operated by the agency that plans to offer greater access to integrated services including mental health and substance use, primary care, immediate support, peer support and employment support at the Haliburton County Youth Wellness Hub.
“As many are aware, there are huge transportation needs in Haliburton County,” reads the request from Cox. “High rates of poverty, increasing gas prices, inflation, escalating car prices and housing costs are resulting in even more transportation challenges as many who previously could keep a vehicle on the road are now finding it totally prohibitive. COVID has further reduced people’s willingness to ride share and it is greatly exacerbating transportation poverty in our county. This combines with the increased need for people to be able to access services and supports to help mitigate the mental health and substance epidemic we are also experiencing.”
Cox told council the youth hub has seen “numbers starting to soar,” with usage of those aged 12 to 25 increasing from 201 youth in 2020/21, to 656 youth in 2021/2022.
“It’s a service that’s drawing youth in,” she said. “Youth have a chance not only to participate in clinical services, psychiatric services, nurse practitioner services, peer support services, but also have a place to meet with other youth and build protective factors – isolation is highly correlated with substance use and mental health. It’s a place to have fun, and that connection is also very important.”
Point in Time has a small fleet of vehicles that can be used to transport youth, but like other organizations throughout the county, are experiencing staffing shortages. The centre has partnered with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board to offer transportation on the late bus that runs after school, but there remain gaps in that service.
“We know that summer’s coming, and we also know the late bus doesn’t get everywhere in the county and that there’s a real need for transportation,” said Cox.
She said Point in Time plans to hire a dedicated driver that could provide youth hub rides and shuttles, and also transport children and families to offices in Minden and Haliburton as needed. The $20,000 ask would help cover some of the driver’s salary.
“This would help provide transportation and also allow the county and ourselves to start collecting data [related to ridership/demand] critical to addressing the larger transportation issue in the county,” said Cox.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he presumed the program will be successful and asked if there was a chance the request would become an annual ask.
Cox said she hopes county council has a longer term goal for transportation that will help reduce the need for more individualized transportation, but also said having a pilot program in place enables Point in Time staff to, “knock on the doors of other funders and explore other options.”
She said currently Point in Time staff travels as far as Kinmount, Dorset and Cardiff throughout Haliburton County to provide outreach. One late bus picks up riders at the youth hub on Tuesday and Thursday at 4:30 p.m. doing drop-offs in West Guilford, Carnarvon and Minden, and another takes youth to Wilberforce, Harcourt and Cardiff on Thursdays – about 30 youth use the service. Cox said for the proposed transportation program, staff would have to figure out what the best routes are, at first having youth use a sign-up system and planning in advance.
“We want to work with county staff to figure out what data would be helpful for us to be collecting that might be able to be used not only to map out our needs but plan as a county, including all of our residents going forward,” she said.
As the request comes as a result of demand for service and staff shortages as a result of the stresses of the pandemic, the funding will come from Safe Restart funds the county has access to, to help with challenges caused by COVID-19.
In April, the county agreed, using transit reserves, to finance $20,000 of a rural transportation pilot program designed to transport residents to employment training and employment, led by SIRCH, City of Kawartha Lakes human services and Fleming CREW.