Edmonton’s second Homeless Connect event was held on Sunday at the Shaw Conference Centre downtown. More than 1000 people attended to receive free services, such as haircuts, counseling, and immunizations, from more than 50 agencies. Though more people attended the first Homeless Connect back in October, everyone seemed happy with the turnout:
“We couldn’t be any more pleased with the day’s proceedings,” says Ione Challborn, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region. “The volunteers were smiling. The guests were smiling. I’m certain we made a positive contribution to our guests’ lives today.”
Sharon, Chris, and I joined over 200 other volunteers at 8 AM to prepare for the day. The promised Volunteer Rally had to be cut short due to audio issues, but we still heard from Citytv’s Rob Hislop, Councillor Ben Henderson, MLA for Edmonton-McClung David Xiao, and Homeward Trust representatives (Ione Challborn, Cliff Higuchi, and Susan McGee). The “orientation” that followed was anything but – the large group loosely divided into four or five smaller ones, and figured out what to do from there. No one seemed to know what was going on, however! Organizers had a rough idea of how many volunteers were needed for each service/area, and everyone just volunteered as jobs were called out.
After the initial bit of mayhem, all the volunteers seemed to get into a groove, helping wherever necessary. Slowly but surely everyone learned where all of the services were located. Sharon spent most of her time at the registration desk, Chris chose to guide guests to their first stop, and I decided to help Shaw with the free Internet and phones. Most people were pleasantly surprised they could make long distance phone calls! Here are a couple other observations from my station:
- The most commonly called person was Mom.
- The first place most people went on the computer was Facebook.
- Very few people needed technical help.
I guess I was surprised at the level of technical literacy I observed. The computers at local drop-ins and library locations must be used quite a bit! Actually that was another great thing I got to help with – handing out cards for free Internet at EPL locations, no library card required.
I think Homeless Connect is a great event, and I’m really glad I was able to help out. It makes so much sense to have a “one stop shop” for our city’s less fortunate, because it reduces barriers and greatly simplifies things for everyone involved. The event also goes a long way toward increasing awareness of homelessness, and helps to chip away at the negative perceptions attached to the issue. It was definitely a positive experience for me.
The next Homeless Connect here in Edmonton takes place on Sunday, October 4th. I’m already signed up to volunteer, and I’m sure many others are as well. You can learn more about volunteering here, and you can see the rest of my photos here.