The impact of a hot real estate market and the covid-19 pandemic has made transportation an even greater struggle for low-income residents and a growing homeless population in Muskoka.
John Cooper, from Gravenhurst Against Poverty (GAP), gave a presentation to Gravenhurst council on Aug. 10, on their transportation assistance program “on behalf of our customer base who do not have a car or use of a car.”
Cooper explained that the area being served is “vast” which means “the less fortunate who reside here are significantly challenged to get to required medical appointments, shopping, laundry and job interviews, etc.”
He emphasized that “the number of people who are experiencing this problem in our community is growing and that transportation is emerging as a pressing need that is not being met. Next to accommodation and food, transportation ranks highest in the needs for the growing number of those who struggle,” Cooper said.
Cooper said that GAP’s team has been “working well” with local taxi companies to try to meet some of the needs. Additionally, “we are working to develop a program with some local car owners” who meet the personal and vehicular requirements, to be paid to drive clients on a .59 cents/per kilometre basis, in particular for those with more “lengthy transportation needs.”
He said that GAP is working with some more distant communities within the municipality’s limits such as Kilworthy, that are home to “many citizens who are struggling and often stranded. They are working with Hammond Bus Lines to schedule a service where they will “bring members of these communities to town to shop, do laundry or whatever they can fit in the time, using an off-hour school bus.”
An increase is homelessness has also created a greater demand for a “service expansion need,” says Cooper. These numbers have significantly grown in large part “because of the realities of 17 months of viral affliction,” resulting in more drug and alcohol abuse and “people being exposed in cramped quarters for extended periods of time.”
The rising real estate market–some areas in Muskoka saw a 49 percent increase in the past year–has also been a large contributing factor, as it has driven up rental rates “that are simply unaffordable to many,” says Cooper.
“The District of Muskoka’s Emergency Services team provides motel accommodation for these unfortunate people,” explains Cooper. No food or cash or transportation is provided with the accommodation.
Cooper said that when homeless people are put up at the Skyway Motel, a round trip taxi to town costs $80. From Golden Pines Motel, it is $45. A return trip to Bracebridge hospital is between $80-$100, he says.
GAP is also fielding requests from another group of clients–those who have found work at minimum wage, but the majority of their earnings from a shift goes towards covering cab costs.
To give council an idea of how the program works and what needs exist, Cooper says from April 15 to June 30, GAP funded 114 trips for a cost of $2275, or just under $20 a trip. “We have had to deny many requests for trips until we had funding in place. ” The “groundswell of requests” has made GAF re-think their funding in order to deal with “what has become our reality.”
In discussion, council agreed that this is a growing problem and some sort of local transportation network is much-needed.
Councillor Graeme Murray commented that the homeless and transient population is “something we don’t see a lot of them when we are driving around or out on the street, it’s often behind closed doors” and asked Cooper if he could elaborate.
Cooper said that motel accommodation is being provided in “every community, every night, for people who have just lost their permanent residence, have done some couch-surfing and car-sleeping and have just run out. So they call the district or GAP and find a residence for them, it could be for one night or several weeks. They are not generally seen on the street because the district has strict rules in place, they must be out of these rooms that they rent by a certain time in the morning and back in at night, so there is an effort to control their activities to some extent. “
GAP plans to cover some of the costs of these transportation needs with GAP’s own fundraising, the “generosity of donors such as a recent $10,000 grant from the district transportation fund and a $3800 Terence Haight grant which we chose to apply to our fast-growing transportation needs,” Cooper says, but more funds are needed.
Cooper requested that council consider if funds from the federal gas tax credit could apply to meeting these needs or from a transportation fund announced by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario could be accessed. Council agreed to look into whether these funds could be used to help meet this growing need.
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