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Independent Living: Time to be counted

December 5, 2009
By LAUREN LEFEBVRE, Tri-Lakes Center for Independence

I just got back from the New York State Department of Transportation Rural and Specialized Transportation Conference. I've been to this conference once before, and that was the catalyst for the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living to apply for funding to purchase a bus through what is known as the 5310 Program.

Basically, this is funding that is available to nonprofit organizations whose consumer base are folks that fall into the elderly and/or disabled category. (I hate the label, too, but I didn't write the guidelines for the funding.)

There is another program for public transit called 5311 - in case you were wondering. There are also other programs and other numbers but we'd be here all day going over those.

So, in 2008, TLCIL applied for the 5310 Program. In February 2009, we were notified that our application was selected to be funded. Word is that in January 2010, our bus will be delivered. Before I went to the 2009 transportation conference, I was more then just a little freaked out as the days leading to B.D.D. (bus delivery day) dwindled down to a precious few. Back when the application was submitted, the need to increase transportation options for people with disabilities (which oftentimes does include seniors) was crystal clear in my mind. During the months between then and now other things happened, other things took center stage and transportation was put on my mental backburner. Then, out of the blue, transportation was boiling over on my mental backburner! Questions flew around in my mind, all of which came down to "What in the world was I thinking - applying for a bus - aaahhhhhh!"

Thankfully, the timing for this conference could not have been more perfect. For two days, I was surrounded by people, plain old people, who saw the same unmet need that I did and built a successful program from nothing. These people were not "transportation" people; they were people who hit the "brick wall" of transportation when trying to help their respective consumer bases. They tried to come up with solutions, but eventually became the solution.

Most, if not all, of the solutions became successful through partnerships. There is a term that is thrown around in much of the human service field, and maybe in other fields, too, called "silos."

I'm not saying that exists here, I'm just going to explain what it is. Silos are, in this field, agencies that have a common need-like transportation-insisting on taking care of their "own". For example, a Department of Social Services encounters many instances where transportation is needed-people have medical appointments, people need to get to the Department of Social Services for many things, etc. Office for the Aging also has transportation needs-people want to stay active, be included in their communities and, maintain their independence. Department of Labor pieces together transportation for people become employable or to further their education. Not having transportation is huge. I could go on and on but I think you see the picture.

Each of these agencies has a transportation budget-or someplace in their budgets that transportation goes. Each of these agencies can choose to stay with the status quo, which is a budget draining status quo, or partner with other entities who have the same need.

Silos choose to remain alone, handle their own consumer base and never entertain the idea of joining with anyone for the common good.

People in need of transportation that live in Silo Land will never find out what it means to have the freedom to choose when they go to a doctor's appointment, what store they shop in, if they can go see a movie, if they can go out for dinner, if they can join a club, if they can go to a school play, if they can remain living in their own homes as they age-the list goes on and on.

There are plenty of folks other than seniors or people with disabilities who are in need of transportation. Don't get me wrong, there is public transportation in the Tri Lakes area. These people work tirelessly to figure out routes and schedules that can accommodate the most people.

There will never be transportation that can fill everyone's need and with just what is available right now, it is a very expensive proposition. Our public transportation folks are in the trenches every day doing the best they can to fill an overwhelming need.

The intent, I finally remembered, behind our applying for the bus was to augment what is already out there. So, you tell me. What's missing? A short hourly loop between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake that can connect up with buses going to Malone, Paul Smiths and Tupper Lake? A little route like that would make trips to the Lake Placid Price Chopper, both the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake Adirondack Medical Centers, Aldi, Family Dollar and others a breeze?

No one would have to leave Saranac Lake or Lake Placid before 8 a.m. unless they wanted to, and no one would have to wait for a few hours after they had completed their business for the afternoon or evening bus. Someone could actually do lunch and a matinee in the same day! Someone could go to a holiday craft show. Someone could get a part-time job and not have to pay for daycare for 12 hours.

Of course, this could go the other way, too, and I really mean - the other way - Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. Folks could hit the Save-a-Lot, the dollar store, eat at one of Tupper Lake's fantastic restaurants, or see their grandchild in the school Christmas show and on and on. Maybe an every-other-day loop. Monday and Wednesday a Saranac Lake to Lake Placid route and Tuesday and Thursday a Saranac Lake to Tupper?Lake route? Routes like these might free up public transportation to consider covering an additional area or two. Maybe I'm way off base but I know the need is there.

So, again, you tell me. This bus has the possibility of ensuring seniors are able to remain in their own homes if they choose. This bus has the possibility of providing opportunities for education, employment, recreation and independence for everyone. What's the need, how can TLCIL meet the need and who is willing to pony up with some cash?

By the way, the title of this column is "Time to be counted." Honestly, I was planning on writing about making sure, if you have any disability, that you say that when the census is taken in 2010 but this transportation thing spilled out instead!



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