With Edmonton being one of Canada’s northern-most capital cities, it can be especially tough for the homeless population to survive in the winter months.
According to the Homeward Trust Edmonton biennial homeless population count, there were 2,307 individuals who were homeless in Edmonton in 2014.
Though methods used in this count were more thorough than in previous surveys, results indicated a three per cent decrease from 2012, likely due to increased use of shelters.
Recent economic hardships are likely contributing to the large number of people who find themselves without work, a home or even food.
What are the homeless left to do when all hope seems lost?
Services that help
The Shaw Conference Centre opens its doors twice a year with Homeless Connect, an event that provides essential and dignity-enhancing services to Edmonton’s homeless population.
Homeless Connect and its volunteers specialize in restoring hope and dignity to those who may be without it.
Homeless Connect’s mission is simple: to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness, and to provide services and programs to help those individuals and families who need support to get back on their feet.
“We are one of the few events like this in Canada. It’s relevant, and we are one of the last jurisdictions that does it, and as a result we are constantly connecting with Albertans,” said Kent McLeod, co-chair of Homeless Connect Edmonton.
A total of 17 events have taken place since Homeless Connect began in 2008. Homeless Connect brings together a variety of volunteer services donated by various groups, organizations and businesses.
Homeless Connect is part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-year Plan to End Homelessness, but similar events are held around the entire country. Homeward Trust is the main coordinator of Homeless Connect in Edmonton, with the cooperation of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, the Shaw Conference Centre and other community members and businesses who help to put on the event every spring and fall.
The agencies come voluntarily and include everything from housing providers and training programs to foot care, food and barbers.
Over 70 services and 500 volunteers took part in last October’s event, with over 2,500 guests in attendance.
“It’s important to not only give programs that these people need, like volunteers to help with housing and applications, but the little things, like getting a haircut, (and) giving them back some confidence,” McLeod said.
Homeless Connect is not just an event to help feed and clothe the homeless in our city. It has inspired some incredible success stories in its clients.
McLeod has seen clients who have attended Homeless Connect go from client to volunteer.
“We had a kid who came in, and he was 18 years old, and he came in and asked a lot of questions, hit all of the different venues, and the next year I saw him wearing a volunteer shirt. He had actually become a housing agent volunteer,” McLeod said.
“There’s stories like this where you see someone one year absorbing the event for all it’s worth and come back next year with a volunteer shirt on. But there are anecdotal successes, too.”
McLeod sees that the clients attending the event are gradually becoming more aware of available programs and the system they must go through to move away from homelessness.
From housing and job applications, to even filing tax returns, he sees the success of Homeless Connect every year.
While Homeless Connect is a spectacular display of individuals coming together to help those in less fortunate circumstances, it is disappointing that the number of people who attend and require the services at the event is still in the thousands.
“Fortunately, we never have a shortage of volunteers. We actually cap off the number of volunteers for the event every year, so there has not been a shortage of people willing to help out,” McLeod said, adding that if anyone is interested in volunteering or donating, information is available on Homeless Connect’s website.
Homeless Connect’s goal to help facilitate paths to end homelessness means organizers hope to be out of work one day — a day when homelessness in Edmonton no longer exists.
But until then, the organization is working to help get the homeless back on their feet.
Cover photo supplied.
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