Community Service Centre finding alternatives to help vulnerable sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

Prince Albert Community Service Centre CEO Bill Powalinsky. (Herald file photo)

CSC offers delivery for specialized transportation clients

Prince Albert’s Community Service Centre (CSC) is using its specialized transportation for pick-up and delivery of essential items like groceries, household items and prescriptions.

CEO Bill Powalinsky said in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the centre is in limbo of managing operations while continuing to help the city’s vulnerable sector—providing delivery services is one way to do both.

“The biggest challenge of course is two-fold, right? One is still maintaining your business operation while protecting the health and welfare of your staff, your clients,” said Powalinksy.

“At times like this, you take a look at what you can do to help out the community and a large part of these services are for citizens who are vulnerable and can be badly affected by the virus. We just thought it would be a natural extension of our services.”

Powalinsky explained those registered for either service can contact the access transit dispatch centre at (306) 953-4466 or (306) 953-4477 for Seniors Transportation to arrange a delivery.

Passengers who cannot use regular transit because of disabilities are eligible to use paratransit. For Seniors Transportation, you must be 60 years old or older and live within city limits.

The fees are the same as normal: $2.50 per trip for access transit and $5 one way for Seniors Transportation.

Powalinsky said the CSC will also pick up someone to run errands for you, drop them back off at their home and then bring you your groceries, household items or prescriptions.

“Its times like these that the community pulls together and we do what we can to help out,” added paratransit driver Tim Gelysteen in a news release.

Both services are still picking up clients like normal, but within reduced hours. The CSC has stopped offering Seniors Transportation on the weekends and dropped Sundays for access transit.

“We’re just responding to the pattern,” said Powalinsky.

The CSC has seen a dramatic drop in ridership since it reduced its hours two weeks ago. At that time, said Powalinsky, about 150 people were using access transit and about 100 people were using Seniors Transportation a week. 

Now, that number has plummeted to about 35 a week for each.

He emphasized that the CSC’s drivers, like others working essential services, are putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 to help others.

“They can’t maintain the social safe distance when you’re buckling in a wheelchair, tying it down. You’re right up against the person,” he said.

The CSC has temporarily closed its building on 15th Street West to the public, and has temporarily shut down SARCAN Recycling.

“We’re running with a skeleton crew,” said Powalinsky. “It’s been a rough ride.”

“We’ve trimmed back our workforce quite significantly. We’re cutting back a lot of the overlapping shifts.”

Depending on how long it takes before COVID-19 restrictions lift, Powalinsky said it could be looking at layoffs affecting about 40 people. He said the CSC also has emergency funding.

But, as he explained, the CSC is finding other alternate ways to continue helping its clients.

Guiding Future Visions, for example, is focused on parents looking for employment. Staff have been sending clients quizzes for career interests and development, as well as colouring books for their children.

CSC asking retailers to allow alternate payment methods from vulnerable citizens

The CSC is encouraging retailers to allow non-cash methods of payment for seniors and other vulnerable citizens.

“Our biggest challenge right now is people are saying ‘Can I send the cash with you?’” said Powalinsky, which extends the company’s liability if cash is lost.

“What we’re trying to do is find a way that maybe they can set up some sort of credit application where they can pay by cheque, and we’d be willing to drop a cheque off.”

The CSC receives funding from the Government of Saskatchewan and the City of Prince Albert. It also relies on its Seniors Transportation fundraiser, Two Miles for Mary, and individual donations.