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NIEFS Tech Lending Library helps people connect to services

Pilot Project to help vulnerable people access social services during and after pandemic
Laptops and tablets will be available to Campbell River’s vulnerable populations in the new NIEFS Tech Lending Library pilot project. Photo from Pixabay

Though there are a wide range of programs and systems in place to help the most vulnerable portions of the population, those programs do not mean anything if people lack the technology to access them.

That’s what inspired the North Island Employment Foundations Society (NIEFS) to start their new lending library program.

“We had on our radar for quite some time the inequalities with vulnerable populations during COVID when services are closed for people to connect to services such as everything from housing subsidies to income assistance, EI and childcare subsidies,” said Shannon Baikie, NIEFS’ regional manager. “When the funding came through from the government of Canada, we were really excited. There weren’t a lot of parameters around putting in a project. We put together an application for a small grant and we were successful.”

That funding is the COVID-19 Emergency Community Support funding that comes through the United Way and Community Foundations across Canada. The program will be small, and won’t be available for everyone. NIEFS will be using the funds to buy four laptops and three tablets, and people will need to fill out an application to be able to access the equipment. However, Baikie said that since the program is so small they are able to be flexible with it, and cater the program to meet their clients’ needs.

“We really want to hear what people are faced with, and if someone needs to borrow it for three days, or if someone only needs it for a couple of hours, we want to be flexible in terms of working with the folks who call us,” She said. “Although we suspect and know that there are folks out there who just don’t have the resources to access it, but we don’t want to assume what they need it for and how long.”

They are also looking beyond Campbell River. NIEFS also has an office in Port Hardy, and does outreach work to Sayward, Gold River, Port Hardy and Port McNeill. They are looking to connect with community partners in those areas to identify people who may benefit from the project. Though it is just a pilot at this point, Baikie said that she hopes the success of the project allows it to continue after funding ends in March.

“The intent is to help those folks most who are in poverty really connect to the hardware they just don’t have access to in order to access so many of the programs and services out there during COVID right now,” she said.

“Certainly, during non COVID times we do a ton of work,” Baikie continued. “We have a dedicated outreach coordinator who is out in those communities working with folks. Hopefully if things get back to normal at some point and this program can continue, that would be amazing for us to be able to provide this to those folks who just don;t have access, but that’s down the road.”

The NIEFS office is closed to drop ins at the moment, but Baikie said that those interested in participating can call the office at 250-286-3441 and make an appointment to fill out the application. That includes a short assessment, determining the purpose for the equipment, how the hardware is to be used and arrangements for pick up.

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