Since the closure of Greyhound’s services in this area of the province, the Mental Wellness Centre in Penticton says its clients have been struggling to make it to their appointments.
Sharon Evans, the board president for the South Okanagan Similkameen Mental Wellness Society, said the centre serves clients in Penticton’s surrounding communities such as Oliver, Summerland, Princeton and Osoyoos. Because of the limited times that area buses will be now operating, it has become harder for these people to make it to their scheduled appointments.
“If someone wants to attend our programs, can they get here on a Saturday? We can’t schedule during the evenings now because you can bus here, but you can’t get home. And we have clients that can’t drive,” said Evans. “And do you have enough daycare to cover how long you’ll be gone? If you have to take the bus at 2 p.m. for something that doesn’t start until 6 p.m., that’s additional costs as well in babysitting.”
The centre acts a resource for people seeking help with mental illnesses, with as broad of a scope from disorders such as schizophrenia to more common ones like anxiety. She noted that you don’t necessarily have to have a mental illness to access help at the centre, citing they also provide relief to family or friends experiencing issues as a result of someone close to them having a mental illness.
“We do support. So support is ‘What are you having problems with? ‘What do you think you need help with? What do you need to know about?’ and often people will explain ‘Well my family member or I are having these kinds of problems and I don’t know what to do with it.’,” said Evans.
Evans said the centre operates two particularly popular programs, a peer-to-peer support group and a family support group, which are now suffering because of the lack of transit options. Though these are partially funded by Interior Health, Evans said it wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of making the program mobile and bring it to surrounding communities for families to access.
“The family support program is the one we really need to raise funds for. Our catchment area is the health service area, basically the RDOS. So a trip out to Princeton in gasoline alone is $124 roundtrip,” said Evans. “And that’s just once, so trying to get out there is not necessarily as easy as we’d like it to be.”
Evans said the centre has been working with organizations in these communities to try and offer services out of existing facilities there, but this process is complex because it’s dependent on the space and time available, who would staff the program, etc.
“Not to mention, if you’re going to Princeton you have to allow three hours on the road, which only allows them four or five hours to work with families,” said Evans. “Same with going to Osoyoos and Oliver, it’s time and it’s money.”
While there are some options for those living out of the city such as telephone or video conferencing, Evans said this is not a fit-all solution for those who don’t have the technology or don’t know how to use it. She said in her experience, people prefer to have a “breathing person across from them” when they’re seeking these kinds of services.
“The reality is for someone to drive in from Princeton, they can’t afford it. And even though there is still some transit operating, they no sooner get here and they have to be down to the pickup spot to go back home. Or they’re stuck here until tomorrow,” said Evans.
“Or if they have an appointment at 10 a.m. but the bus can’t get them there until 11 a.m., it gets really hard for people to get around between the communities.”
Evans said people also have to take into account that often appointments can end up being delayed, which again affects people relying on transit to get back home. She fears that services like the ones offered at the Mental Wellness Centre will begin to fall through the cracks if a solution isn’t provided soon.
Until then, Evans said their plan is to continue working on collaborations with other resources in the communities to try to extend their services.
“Our peer support worker visits Summerland almost every Tuesday so community members can try and make appointments in advance on those days. We have a space at Park Drive Church (in Oliver) in collaboration with the Access Centre, and we’ll continue collaborating with them,” said Evans. “We’re going to be doing more collaboration with Desert Sun about using space in Oliver and Osoyoos if needed and some other programs.”
Evans hopes that in the future, the Mental Wellness Centre will be able to further break down the family support group by age demographic to better help those who access the service. For now, though, her focus is making the program more accessible for its participants who must commute.
“Community support is a huge help to us and expanding our services. We were recently the recipient of a Penticton Vees donation. We also get other organizations like the golf club has a fund for us,” said Evans. “We also apply for grants but the problem with those is it’s a lot of writing and a lot of waiting. The City of Penticton has generously, for the past two years, given us community grants for our Martin House program, which helps youths 16 to 30.”
“I want a Winnebago – then we can pop people from several organizations into it and say ‘Okay on Monday we’re in Keremeos, on Tuesday we’re in Oliver, and so on.’ Because these services are going to fall through the cracks if the transit needs aren’t addressed,” said Evans.
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