Where the heart is.

I was lying alone in the middle of my king-size bed last night trying to understand how stressed and terrified I would be without the roof over my head. How would it feel to not know how I was going to afford my lunch tomorrow afternoon? I'll be honest, these thoughts don't usually keep me up at night and I consider myself to be a fairly compassionate human being, but there I was lying awake, all because I chose to venture downtown on Sunday.

They say the home is where the heart is, well there was definitely a lot of heart at the Shaw Conference Centre during Homeless Connect Edmonton on October 16, 2011. I spent the afternoon at the all day event that offers people experiencing homelessness and at-risk individuals and families in Edmonton a multitude of free appropriate services. Organized by Homeward Trust and the collaborative efforts of many community partners, the event brought together more than 450 service providers and volunteers to offer; a hot meal, personal care kits, health care, dental care, winter coats, haircuts and housing information, among others, to those in need.

When I arrived there was a lineup of men, women, children and teens that snaked all the way down one of the building's giant corridors. Instantly it was clear that people of all ages and ethnicities are at risk of becoming homeless, are homeless, and need our help. Inside the hall, hundreds of volunteers and service providers were donating their time, resources and expertise to those already inside.

The personal care kits are a significant contribution that United Way makes to Homeless Connect. Giving away more than 2000 of these kits filled with products such as deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes to attendees, United Way also provides free winter coats and runs a swap table where attendees can swap items that they don't personally need in their kits for items that they do.

I had a chance to talk to Jenn Dermott, a program coordinator with United Way, about her experience. Like me, this was her first time attending Homeless Connect. One story she told me stands out in my mind. It was about a cute little man with a white beard that had just come in to get a new screw for his glasses so he wouldn't have to continue taping them together. She told me how genuinely thankful and happy he was to receive all these extra services. Fully content and about to exit the hall she told him about the hot meal that was being served and his face lit up and he marched back the way he came with his personal care kit to enjoy the meal.

This man is living life without a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence to call home, and still he is able to smile and appreciate all that he had been given. Could you? Attending the event was eye opening. Homeless Connect Edmonton is a thought-provoking vital service for our community and I encourage anyone that read this far to consider volunteering their time on April 29, 2012 at the next Homeless Connect. You won't regret it. For more information on Homeless Connect Edmonton you can go to HomelessConnect.ca

Fast Fact: In October 2010, 2,421 counted Edmontonians were experiencing homelessness. Compared to 3,079 in 2008, we've seen a reduction of 21% due to the work of the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness.- intraspec.ca

Looking for more to read about homelessness in the City of Edmondon? Why don't you check out this article First Things First | WE Magazine.


David Odumade, Manager, New Media, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region