ELKHART COUNTY -- For many senior citizens it's a fact of life: They can no longer drive. That, of course, means they need help getting around. And for years, the Elkhart County Council on Aging has provided that for free – but that’s about to change.
Iris Dawson is one of many who use the transportation provided by the Council on Aging. The van takes her back and forth to her job at the Faith Mission at no charge, but she usually gives a small donation.
“Without the Council on Aging, I would not be able to have transportation to work, and I would be without a job,” said Dawson.
The senior citizens who depend on this service use it for a variety of needs. The transportation is provided around Elkhart, as well as the entire county itself.
“We take people to the doctor’s office, we take people to the hospital for physical therapy, we take people to the grocery store, the bank,” said Tammy Smith, Council on Aging director. “Anywhere they need to go.”
But this year, compared to this time last year, the agency has seen demand go up from around 500 trips a month to 1,000. At the same time, the funding is declining.
“We don’t have the funding to continue our trips,” said Christina Hedman, transportation coordinator. “I hate telling anybody no, I hate denying any ride and I do what I can to get anybody on our schedule daily.”
Starting in July, the agency will have to start charging seniors for those trips – people who are already on a fixed income.
“It starts at five dollars per trip and goes to ten dollars, and it’s based on income,” said Smith.
It’s their hope that an increase in local donations, coupled with regular funding could change that.
“It would allow us to not have to charge for these trips, but unfortunately, it’s something we can’t avoid doing right now,” said Smith.
If you use this service, you'll soon be getting a letter just like this in the mail from the Council on Aging. It'll explain the breakdown on trips charges that'll start next month.