5 Days for the Homeless 2009 in Edmonton

I think homelessness is a very important issue, and like many others I’d love to see it come to an end. It’s crazy that there are more than 3000 people without a permanent place to sleep in Edmonton. Fortunately, the issue has received a lot of attention lately. On January 29th, the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness released its 10-year plan (which called for nearly $1 billion in funding). On February 4th, City Council unanimously endorsed the plan and established the Edmonton Homeless Commission (pdf). Yesterday, the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness released its own 10-year plan to end homelessness in Alberta, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

It doesn’t take a report and billions of dollars to make a difference, however. That’s why I was particularly interested to chat with Tim Hankinson, a business student at the University of Alberta spearheading this year’s 5 Days for the Homeless event. Here’s their mission:

“To raise awareness of the issue of homelessness, monetary donations for local charities around the country, and help change the image of business students.”

The concept behind the campaign is simple. Participants are homeless for five days (March 15th to 20th). They receive only food and drinks received through direct donations, have only a pillow and a sleeping bag (plus a cell phone for emergencies/media, and a camera to document the experience), have no access to showers, and must sleep outside.

Five Days started in 2005 at the University of Alberta’s School of Business. After a very successful first year, the event began to grow. There are now 16 schools participating across the country!

Tim explained to me that money is raised through donations on the website, not pledges. The donations in each city go toward a local charity. Here in Edmonton, all money raised will be donated to the Youth Emergency Shelter Society. The goal for this year is to raise $30,000 locally, and over $100,000 nationally.

Equally important is raising awareness. Tim said the biggest impact the campaign has is on making their fellow students and others in the community aware of the problem. To that end, they’ve made an effort this year to make use of social media to spread the word. Like most of the participating cities, Edmonton has a Facebook group and a Twitter account. Participants have also been making use of the #5days hashtag.

The total amount raised for Edmonton is currently $3349, while the national total sits at $51,120.12. National Bank Financial is matching student donations up to a maximum of $10,000. Other local sponsors include Time Line Construction and Xerox, both of which will be spending some time outside with the participants. I’m planning to do so also – you can see their schedule here.

I think 5 Days is a fantastic initiative. It’s a great example of how a handful of people can make a big difference. Well done to all participants and supporters!

Edmonton Homeless Count 2008

Last night Sharon and I attended the Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation event at The Billiard Club on Whyte Avenue. Volunteers who helped at either Homeless Connect or the Homeless Count were invited to attend. Everyone received a complimentary drink and was entered into a draw for door prizes. In addition to simply saying “thank you”, Homeward Trust showed two videos produced by local firm Bearpaw Media Productions. I was quite impressed with the quality of both videos, and thought they served as an excellent introduction to both the Homeless Count and Homeless Connect. I hope Homeward Trust puts the videos up on their website, but I’m not holding my breath.

Homeward Trust also shared some information about the results of this year’s count. They didn’t release the report today as promised, but here’s what they told us last night:

  • The number of homeless individuals counted in 2008 was 3006 3079, up from 2618 in 2006.
  • The count lasted 17 hours and involved 180 agencies and over 220 volunteers.
  • Over 80% of the volunteers this year were new, and Homeward Trust did not get as many volunteers as they had hoped for.

I’ll update this post with a link to the final report as soon as it becomes available. You can find the results of the previous counts here.

Enumerators

Sharon wrote about our experience volunteering for the Homeless Count back in October. I enjoyed the quick conversations we had with people on the street, though our route along 107th avenue was mostly empty. It was a little awkward asking everyone we encountered the required questions, but we got better at it. I was happy to be able to help out, and I’d be interested in doing it again next time!

What’s next for Homeward Trust? They’ve just launched the annual Toque Campaign. Now in its 13th year, the Raising the Roof initiative is a way to raise funds and awareness in the fight against homelessness in Canada. Since 1997, over 575,000 toques have been sold to Canadians! I bought one last night for $10 (the minimum donation). Don’t forget to wear your toque to show your support on Toque Tuesday, which takes place on February 3rd, 2009.

Finally, Homeward Trust is already planning for the next Homeless Connect event to take place sometime in the spring. The event on October 5th was a huge success, with over 1500 homeless people getting a unique opportunity to access over 50 services. I was under the impression you had to be affiliated with one of the participating agencies to help out, but that’s not the case! I’ll be volunteering for the next one. Maybe I can help people use the computer and get on the Internet or something.

Thanks to Homeward Trust for their excellent work and the opportunity to help out!

UPDATE (11/22/2008): Homeward Trust finally released the report to the media yesterday, the total number is 3079. They still haven’t posted it to their website.

UPDATE (11/24/2008): They have posted the report here. (PDF)

Edmonton's 8th Homeless Count

blog action day 2008 poverty How many people are homeless in Edmonton? The last count, completed back in October 2006, found 2618 Edmontonians were homeless (the report is available in PDF). A lot has changed in the last two years however, so we need an updated number. Homeward Trust has scheduled Edmonton’s 8th Homeless Count for Tuesday, October 21st.

These counts provide information regarding our overall homeless population that organizations, agencies, and governments can use to determine best solutions for aiding the homeless and eventually ending homelessness.

The Wikipedia entry on Homelessness says that in 2005, an estimated 100 million people worldwide were homeless. The number in Canada is about 150,000, though the Government of Canada admits that “to date, no reliable method for counting the number of people who are homeless [has been] identified.” Even with less than accurate numbers, it’s clear that homelessness is a major problem.

Approximately 200 volunteers are required to conduct the Homeless Count here in Edmonton. Working in teams, some volunteers will participate in the street count, while others will work at drop-in centres, libraries, temporary employment agencies, and bottle depots. If you’d like to volunteer, you’ll need to attend a training session tomorrow:

A Volunteer Orientation Session will be held from 5:00 – 7:30 on Thursday, October 16, 2008, at the Stanley A. Milner Library theatre. A light supper will be provided and volunteers will receive all information necessary to complete their activities on the day of the count. Each volunteer will be asked to sign a waiver of liability form.

If you have any questions, contact Wendy Myshak at 780.944.5697 or via email.

I will be attending the session tomorrow and volunteering for the count on the 21st. Like most people who live or work downtown, my anecdotal experience suggests that homelessness has increased in Edmonton in recent years.

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day 2008, an effort to raise awareness and initiate action on the topic of poverty. I also participated last year, when the topic was the environment.