By Jensen, Randy on March 31, 2020.
City of Lethbridge manager of community support for the pandemic response, Lori Harasem, says anyone seeking services during the COVID-19 crisis can find what they need on the free Helpseeker app.
“We are ahead of many communities because of the fact we already had a tool in place that was already so populated,” she says. “It has been a great starting place for sure.”
Many local community service providers have been using Helpseeker for a while now, explains one of the app’s originators in the community, Fifth on Fifth executive director Trevor Brown.
“It’s an app where service providers can centralize and offer services through a one-stop shop,” he says. “The Helpseeker app is a place where people in the community that are looking for specific services, or don’t know where to look but are looking for something in particular, they can go on to the Helpseeker app and focus on what particular social issue they may be facing. It then allows you to search for which service provider would be the best fit for you.”
Harasem says almost all local social and community service providers were already using the app prior to the coronavirus outbreak; however, the outbreak has allowed the City to expand the app’s use dramatically to meet a dramatic situation.
“We realized right at the beginning (of the Local State of Emergency) because that tool is already heavily populated with so many supports, it just made sense to use that tool going forward and grow it. So we have basically contacted any not-for-profit in the city we know of and said, ‘If you are doing anything to provide supports or services we want you to create a listing.'”
That could be anything, says Harasem, from virtual dance lessons and workouts to food delivery for those in isolation who may be vulnerable to the disease. All services are listed under a special “COVID-19” category on the app.
In the past few weeks, the City has also asked any local businesses still open and offering any services during the crisis to post those on Helpseeker as well.
“We worked with the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Lethbridge to put out a call for action also letting businesses know if they are providing services during this time we really want them on there,” she says. “So if they have special shopping hours for seniors or they are doing delivery services. We have also had things like inquiries from people about what vets are open, and what is the process for taking in your sick animal. We have people working to try to find that information and get it on Helpseeker. It has really become a tool for the entire community for the COVID response.”
The City has also created an online version of the services for those who do not have access to the app. Those interested can go to lethbridge.ca/covidsupport. A printable version is updated and posted daily with the services being offered in response to COVID-19 in the community.
Harasem has been fielding inquiries daily about the City’s use of Helpseeker from other jurisdictions who are looking to reproduce something similar in their own communities.
“We do seem to be ahead of many communities in how we are responding to this crisis,” she says. “I am getting municipalities calling saying, ‘Can we see this?’ It’s great to know what we’re doing is able to be shared so everyone can respond quicker.”
The free downloadable app can be found in both the Apple App Store and in the Google Play Store.
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