On Sunday, April 7, the Shaw Conference Centre opened its doors to hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness or at-risk of becoming homeless, for the 10th Homeless Connect. This bi-annual event provides guests with the opportunity to receive free services such as dental care, haircuts, employment and training services, and a hot meal.
Homeless Connect is a truly collaborative effort between many different community partners and volunteers. The event is managed by Homeward Trust, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), Shaw Conference Centre and United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.
United Way not only helps manage Homeless Connect, but acts as a service provider at the event by bringing coats, work boots and personal care items for guests. Because of the generous sponsorship and support of Parlee McLaws, United Way is able to offer guests over the age of 12 a "care kit", which includes items like shampoo, deodorant, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, and razors.
This was the second time I have attended Homeless Connect, which has roughly 400 volunteers to assist with registration or to serve as guides and greeters.
The goal of Homeless Connect is to provide a respectful and welcoming environment for everyone who attends. When entering the Shaw Conference Centre, I was greeted with a friendly smile and directed to the main conference area. As I stood near the registration line, I watched as a volunteer greeted and shook hands with each and every person that stepped forward, before introducing them to a guide that would help direct them to the services they needed. Throughout the day I met some wonderful people and heard many touching stories. The couple below asked if I would take their picture; it was a nice moment.
One of the goals of Homeless Connect is to bring awareness to homelessness in our community, so it was nice to see all the news coverage the event received. This quote in the Edmonton Sun by one guest stuck with me throughout the day.
"I know how to access services, but for people that don't I can imagine they find this pretty miraculous."
Although there are a lot of services available to people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness, if those individuals aren't able access information about those services they most likely won't receive the help and supports they need.
At United Way we know the value of inclusion and integration. We aim to increase access to information about the services and programs that are available to community members in the Alberta Capital Region, and do this by providing funding to services like the 211 Information and Referral Line, an easy-to-remember three-digit phone number providing free, confidential, multilingual access to information about the full range of community, social, health and government services.
As another Homeless Connect comes to a close, I am able to reflect on the value that these types of community events bring to our community. Bringing together people from all walks of life helps foster respect and reminds us all that we all need to work together to build a stronger community.