An update on the initiative to end poverty in Edmonton

The task force for the elimination of poverty in Edmonton got underway last March. Mayor Iveson spoke about the initiative in his State of the City address, and a week later City Council formally established the task force. A lot has happened since then, and the year ahead looks to be an important one. Here’s an overview of the work that took place in 2014 and a look at what’s to come.

Mayor’s Symposium on Poverty

Following the establishment of the task force, the Mayor’s Symposium on Poverty was held on March 20, 2014. Roughly 130 Edmontonians came together at the Shaw Conference Centre to discuss the new task force and to “tap into the wisdom of the community to set the foundation” for its work. Mayor Iveson opened the event, and said “this may be the most extraordinary Make Something Edmonton of all time.”

Guest speaker Dr. John Rook spoke about ‘The City that will End Poverty’, sharing insights and stories from his experience leading the plan to end homelessness in Calgary. He praised the mayor for making poverty elimination a priority, and said “I know with your bold leadership that Edmonton will be a city where poverty is not an enigma.” You can read his full remarks in the symposium report.

Mayor's Symposium on Poverty

Afterward, the crowd broke into smaller discussion groups to talk about some of the key themes, like health or transit. The report includes a summary of their discussions, as well as some broader conclusions:

“The overarching goal of ending poverty, however, is an ambitious one. The importance of advocacy and lobbying with all orders of government surfaced throughout the discussion groups, because in many cases a wholesale policy shift will be necessary in creating the kind of change that participants talked about.”

I attended and had some great discussions throughout the day. I left feeling optimistic but also very aware of the incredible amount of work ahead.

Task Force & Round Table Meetings

The Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty in Edmonton met eight times in 2014 – you can find the meeting agendas and minutes here. They also established two round tables, one focused on Information & Research and one focused on Aboriginal Edmontonians, which met five and six times, respectively. Finally, a Communications and Engagement Committee was established (which I am a member of) and met a few times.

Task Force Working Groups

Over the summer, the task force established working groups as an approach for involving more Edmontonians in the creation of recommendations for eliminating poverty.

“Working Groups will explore, discuss, develop and ultimately bring forward recommendations and associated implementation strategies connected to its focal area that are needed to address and ultimately eliminate poverty in Edmonton. Each Working Group will identify and propose a variety of recommendations for action.”

An orientation event was held on August 26 where community stakeholders were brought up-to-date on the work of the task force and a discussion was held about the focal areas that would form the basis of the working groups. Six were established:

  • Early Childhood Development
  • Education
  • Community Well Being
  • Housing and Transportation
  • Income Security
  • Health and Wellness

In the fall, a 7th working group was formed, focused on Justice and Democratic Participation.

Each working group consists of roughly one to two dozen participants, and they have all met a few times throughout the final part of the year. Their work will continue throughout the early part of 2015, with the goal of finalizing recommendations for the task force by the end of March.

United Way Poverty Simulations

Ever since they brought the program to Edmonton in 2012, the United Way has hosted poverty simulations to help educate Edmontonians about what it’s like to live in poverty. In May, I co-hosted one of the simulations with Omar Mouallem. A few dozen young professionals joined us at the Shaw Conference Centre for the event.

United Way Poverty Simulation

The program has certainly evolved since I first participated in November 2012, but it’s just as eye-opening as ever. Again I was struck by the importance of transportation and the challenges that people living in poverty face as a result. I was also reminded of how hard it can be to live near the poverty line, where you’re just once unfortunate situation from not making ends meet.

I ran into a couple of young women after the event was over, and they admitted that they were skeptical before attending. How could a simulation do justice to those who live in poverty? Fortunately they found the experience educational and positive, and were glad they attended.

For upcoming poverty simulation dates and to learn more, check out the United Way website.

Live Below the Line

The Global Poverty Project held a five-day challenge in late April called Live Below the Line to live on just $1.75 per day for food and drink. Mayor Iveson, members of his staff, Councillor Knack, and Councillor Walters all took part. Together they raised more than $2200 for Raising the Village. The mayor spoke about the challenge on BT Edmonton:

Mayor Iveson wrote about his experience and said “this first-hand understanding of malnourishment has been extremely revealing.” He was glad at the awareness the challenge raised and said his “resolve both as Mayor of Edmonton and as a global citizen is only further strengthened to take action to eliminate poverty.”

EndPoverty Edmonton

In the fall, the task force adopted a new identity and established a presence on social media. EndPoverty Edmonton is the name that was chosen. You can follow @EndPovertyYEG on Twitter, on Facebook, and you can access the website at edmonton.ca/endpoverty.

endpoverty edmonton

The Twitter and Facebook accounts frequently share poverty-related news and links, so they’re slowly becoming great resources for anyone interested in the initiative.

Working Definition of Poverty

In September, the task force adopted its working definition of poverty:

“Edmontonians experience poverty when they lack or are denied economic, social and cultural resources to have a quality of life that sustains and facilitates full and meaningful participation in the community.”

You can read the full document which includes context, assumptions, a discussion on measurement, and an explanation, on the task force website.

What’s next?

The goal of the task force is to bring a draft poverty elimination plan before City Council in June. There’s a lot to do before that can happen.

The Edmonton Social Planning Council was contracted in the fall to develop a profile of poverty in Edmonton. The document will outline facts on poverty and will examine the pattern of poverty in our city. The profile is “also intended to provide benchmarks to monitor progress” of the poverty elimination plan. A draft was circulated toward the end of the year and it should be posted soon.

The working groups will present their recommendations to the task force in March, after which the task force will have to work to develop goals, outcomes, actions, and an implementation strategy. Throughout the spring, the poverty elimination plan will be drafted and a presentation for Council will be prepared. I understand a series of public engagement opportunities will take place along the way to help with that work.

The Communications and Engagement Committee has begun work on a new website for EndPoverty Edmonton. The goal is to be able to provide regular updates on the work of the task force, to engage Edmontonians who want to get involved, and to create a resource that will live on past the creation of the plan.

end poverty roadmap

The task force will also need to consider what happens after the plan is approved by Council. How will the plan be implemented? How will we engage more Edmontonians to join the cause and to take action? These and other important questions will be tackled in the months ahead.

For now, I would encourage you to follow EndPoverty Edmonton on Twitter and Facebook, so that you can find out about opportunities for engagement, the website launch, and more.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6

Edmonton’s sixth Homeless Connect took place today the Shaw Conference Centre. The biannual event brings together service agencies, businesses, and volunteers to provide a range of free services to homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless. Guests can get a haircut, pick up a pair of work boots, learn how to get identification, eat lunch, and much, much more. Today was the fifth time that Sharon and I have volunteered at the event. Preliminary numbers for today put the number of volunteers at more than 300 and the number of guests served at 1409.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6

This year I was assigned the task of being a guide (I’ve done registration the last few times). Guides are responsible for taking a guest from registration to their first service. Along the way I tried to point out where all of the major services were located, suggesting that they check out clothing, dental, and haircuts first (as they are always the busiest). I found that being a guide was a great way to see all of the services, but it wasn’t quite as enjoyable for connecting with guests. The conversation you have at the registration table is much better for that.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6
Every guest receives a kit filled with essential items like socks, toothpaste, and deodorant.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6
Work boots are always a popular item at Homeless Connect. They go quickly!

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6
The biggest line-ups today seemed to be for haircuts, always a popular service.

I was a little surprised to hear that more than 1400 people went through the doors today. That’s higher than it has been at previous Homeless Connect events, and is especially high for a spring event (the fall event tends to be busier because it is cold outside). Given that the number of homeless people decreased last year (at least according to the count) I would have expected a corresponding drop in attendance at Homeless Connect. Maybe there were more people at risk of being homeless there today.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 6
I’m always struck by the social aspect of Homeless Connect. It’s an important opportunity for old friends to reconnect.

If you’d like to volunteer for the next Homeless Connect, scheduled for October, you can learn more here. Stay tuned to Homeless Connect Edmonton on Twitter for updates. You can see the rest of my photos from today here.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 3

Edmonton’s third Homeless Connect was held yesterday at the Shaw Conference Centre (I wrote about HCE2 here). Over 1100 people attended to receive free services from more than 60 local agencies. Guests could make long distance phone calls, get haircuts, see a dentist, find a winter jacket, and much more all for free. New this time around was supervised child care, increased Aboriginal services, and free photographs! Everyone was served a hot lunch and received a gender-appropriate “goodie bag” too.

“It was a great day. The amount of people and services that come together to support our neighbors is exceptional,” says Joanne Currie, Homeless Connect co-chair and Community Investment Specialist with the United Way. “It’s vital that people dealing with homelessness access these services, and it’s wonderful that they can find these easily, on one day and under one roof.”

There were more than 300 volunteers on hand for the day. Some of us were there all day, while others took either the morning or afternoon shift. Everything seemed much better organized this time around, and there was far less confusion among volunteers about where to be and what to do. It’s great to see that the organizers have acted on feedback from previous events to improve things.

Homeless Connect 3

I’m continually amazed at how many volunteers come out for the event. I’m also pleasantly surprised that so many of them are young! I have no idea what the average age of a Homeward Trust volunteer is, but I suspect its lower than the average for most service organizations. It’s great to see young people taking an active role in helping the less fortunate and improving our community.

I worked at registration this time, which I really enjoyed. The line was quite long throughout the morning but definitely slowed down around 1:30pm. As guests arrived, I introduced myself and shook their hand. I then asked them if they wanted to fill out a quick one-page survey (no one that came to my table declined). Usually I’d just ask the questions and fill it out for them. They survey was pretty straightforward but could definitely be streamlined. After the survey guests received a wristband and goodie bag and were on their way!

Once again I was reminded that the primary role of a volunteer at Homeless Connect is to be friendly and to listen, to ensure that all guests have a positive experience. A smile and a few minutes to chat really can make a big difference!

Homeless Connect 3Homeless Connect 3

I saw some familiar faces at the event (such as Mayor Mandel helping to serve lunch), and met some new people too, such as Lynn (DandelionV on Twitter).

“I’m very impressed with this event. It’s wonderfully organized,” says first time volunteer Lynn Turnbull. “It’s so wonderful seeing each guest being treated with respect and dignity. I thoroughly enjoyed my day.”

Alex also volunteered and wrote about his experience here. You can also check out articles in The Journal and The Sun.

Another great event in the books! I’ll definitely be helping out at the next one. Stay tuned to Homeless Connect Edmonton on Twitter for updates. You can see the rest of my photos here.

Homeward Trust in 2008

Homeward Trust hosted a reception last night to celebrate its new location on the 6th floor at 10242 105th Street, and to share its 2008 Annual Report. The past year has been described as “a landmark year”, the first under the banner of “Homeward Trust” (it used to be known as the Edmonton Housing Trust Fund). They’ve done some great work, and I think 2009 is shaping up to be an even better year for the organization!

The new office space is fantastic. It’s designed in such a way that you can walk around the entire floor in a giant square. They’ve broken the space up into sections, each with a specific focus. Numerous drink and food tables were setup throughout the office for the reception, and everyone was encouraged to explore. The office has some great views of downtown Edmonton!

View from the new Homeward Trust officesHomeward Trust Reception

The program started at 5:30pm with some entertainment, followed by a few speeches and award presentations. Mayor Stephen Mandel and MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie Naresh Bhardwaj both gave remarks. Among the other VIPs in attendance were Councillor Ben Henderson, MLA for Edmonton-Calder Doug Elniski, MLA for Edmonton-Centre Laurie Blakeman, and City Manager Al Mauer.

Homeward Trust Reception

The annual report for 2008 isn’t online yet, but I suspect it’ll be posted soon. Here are some highlights:

  • In 2008, 133 Edmonton families were homeless. 25% more Edmonton children were without a home than in 2006.
  • 59% of Edmonton’s homeless suffer from mental illness.
  • 3079 people were identified as homeless in 2008, an increase of 18% from 2006. More than 200 volunteers and 180 agencies worked on the count.
  • More than 1500 people attended Homeless Connect in October.
  • Homeward Trust allocated nearly $20 million for capital and support services in 2008.

Additionally, five Homeward Trust funded projects opened in 2008:

  1. Habitat for Humanity Norwood ($520,000)
  2. Our House Addictions Recovery Centre ($2,800,000)
  3. John Howard Society The Loft ($580,500)
  4. Catholic Social Services Rotary Centre ($1,526,548)
  5. Women Building Futures Training Centre Reno ($903,000)

I thought Jon Hall, Chair of Homeward Trust Edmonton, said it best: “What our annual report can’t show is the difference we’ve made in people’s lives.”

Kudos to Susan McGee, Executive Director of Homeward Trust Edmonton, and her team for a great event and a fantastic year! You can see the rest of my photos here. For information on volunteering with Homeward Trust, click here.

Homeless Connect Edmonton 2

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.”

Homeless Connect 2Homeless Connect 2

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.

Sharon & MackSharon & ChrisHomeless Connect 2Homeless Connect 2Homeless Connect 2

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.

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.