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BRIAN HODDER: When it comes to providing transportation to people living with lower incomes, more than a Band-Aid solution is needed

Metrobus is back in operation today. From now until Feb. 7, rides will be free for all Metrobus and GoBus users as the City of St. John's encourages commuters to try the bus and to leave their cars at home during the continued cleanup from last weekend's major snowstorm. Glen Whiffen/The Telegram
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One thing I've learned over the years working with people who experience mental health and addiction issues is that isolation has a very negative impact on a person's efforts at recovery.

In order to be successful in recovery, people need to be able to access the various supports that exist in the community and find positive people to socialize with outside their home. One of the major barriers for people in recovery who also live on income support is transportation to the supports that exist within the community. After paying for housing, food and other basic needs, there is little or nothing left to pay for public transportation, meaning that one is limited to a small geographical area that can only be reached by walking. This limitation can be a huge physical and psychological barrier to someone who is motivated to be in recovery - and it's an easy one to overcome if the political will exists.

Last week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, in partnership with the city of St. John's, announced a pilot project that will go a long way towards overcoming this barrier. Starting in April and running for two full years, the government has allocated $2.1 million for a program that will provide bus passes to all income support clients in the metro St. John's area.

Previously, bus passes were only granted for clients who had at least eight medical appointments monthly, which required a letter of documentation from a doctor or medical specialist. This meant medical resources and valuable time was being used writing letters for these clients - time which would be better spent on meeting the medical needs of the person instead of creating a paper trail that needs to be updated periodically.

While some people complain that in Newfoundland's present fiscal state, we can't afford to provide free transportation for people on income support, I would argue that such a program will be cost-effective in the long run and will eventually save money for the province. If the barrier of transportation is removed, people would be able to easily access community support groups, which should help decrease mental health crises that can lead to costly hospitalizations.

Additionally, people recovering from addictions can make it to appointments with counselors and attend AA/NA meetings when needed, decreasing the risk of relapse and the potential for increased criminal activity, which often accompanies supporting an active addiction.

Having access to stable transportation also allows participants to access education and employment opportunities, which can provide a bridge out of income support and into meaningful work, thus contributing to the tax base funding government programs.

Monetary concerns aside, we must start looking at transportation as a basic right of all citizens in order to fully participate in our society, regardless of one's income level. With more and more of our population now living in urban centers, we need more people to use public transportation if we are to meet our commitments to reduce our carbon footprint. People who learn to use the bus system to get around are more likely to continue using it in the future. It makes no sense for us to develop community programs to help people to climb out of poverty, maintain good physical and mental health and socialize with their peers if we don't also supply the means for them to physically get to where these programs are offered.

It's time we start to think differently about how we deal with social issues that impact our communities. We have been too reactive in our approach and rely too much on strategies to deal with problems once they have arisen, often with a Band-Aid treatment that just covers the immediate pain but does little to address the underlying problem. Free public transportation is a proactive measure likely to help prevent many problems before they require a Band-Aid, which is a much healthier and productive approach for everyone involved.


Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at bdhodder@hotmail.com.

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