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Homeless Connect an important stop for Edmontonians in need

WATCH ABOVE: Everything from free hair cuts to dental care were on offer for the city's homeless population in downtown Edmonton on Sunday. It's part of an outreach effort called Homeless Connect. As Albert Delitala explains, the event has become an important stop for those in need.

From mental health supports and dental care, to financial supports and eye exams, the 20th Homeless Connect was held in Edmonton on Sunday afternoon to help provide support to the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“Everybody is welcome. There is nobody turned away from Homeless Connect,” Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee said.

READ MORE: ‘Living rough’: A glimpse into Edmonton’s river valley homeless

The event provides people experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness, a one-stop shop for much-needed services that many people take for granted.

“They can come in and they can get a haircut, they can see an optometrist, they can talk to somebody about accessing additional government resources, they can talk to somebody about having their ID replaced and they can have a meal,” Jenn Dermott with Homeless Connect said.

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“Typically that would take a number of days because it takes time to get from one place to another. So for them to come in and be able to get it all done in a day, it opens up other time for them to get other things done.”

READ MORE: 180K pounds of garbage removed from 950 Edmonton homeless camps 

Just over 1,700 people are living on the streets in Edmonton, according to Homeward Trust’s most recent homeless count in 2016. That’s a 43 per cent drop from the highest count in 2008, which identified 3,079 people experiencing homeless in Edmonton.

The experience can be humbling for some of 350 volunteers at Homeless Connect. Dermott said it’s nice to be able to sit down and talk to people living in poverty in Edmonton and listen to their stories.

“You can assume a lot of things, but often your assumptions are wrong,” Dermott said.

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“So this gives myself and a lot of other volunteers the opportunity to check our assumptions at the door and get a chance to get to know another human.”

The event is held twice per year in Edmonton. Last fall, Homeless Connect saw upwards of 1,700 people come through the doors for services. One in three people that visit the event are first-time attendees, according to McGee.

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“This tells us that one-stop events like this are important to those that come to access the many services that are being offered,” she explained.

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“It’s about including people in our community. This is all about all of us working together and creating an environment that is really welcoming, respectful and breaks down some of the barriers.”

READ MORE: Calls for more Edmonton social housing instead of $2M homeless camp removal

Stephanie Trinh, an optician with Pearle Vision, has been involved with Homeless Connect for a decade. She sees the importance in the services she can offer to someone who might not otherwise receive it.

“It’s our community. Family and community are really important to me,” Trinh said. “It’s quite emotional. You know, it’s things you do every day, helping people. You think it’s just a normal thing but to other people it’s life-changing for them. It’s very rewarding.”

The homeless count is conducted every two years; the most recent count was earlier this month. The results of the count have not yet been released.

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