Hundreds of people packed a downtown Edmonton venue on Sunday for a bi-annual event that connects those facing homelessness or living at the poverty line with free services.
Homeless Connect, which first started in 2008, is a way for service providers in the city — such as dental services and health providers — to build relationships with the city’s vulnerable to help them get their lives back on track.
Participants were able to, among other things, use hair-cutting services, peruse community supports and get tax information at the event held at the Edmonton Convention Centre. Roughly 1,200 people were expected at the Sunday event; approximately 1,700 people attend the same event in the fall.
Billy M. started attending Homeless Connect three years ago after he found himself facing homelessness.
“Just like many people here, I’m here to take advantage of such a service,” he said.
“I had extenuating amounts of bad luck in an amount of time that would probably have pushed a lot of people toward a tall bridge.”
Billy, who planned to visit the optometry and dental providers, said there are a couple of reasons why he keeps coming back year after year.
“Homelessness. There’s nothing I want more, is to be able to be back to a member of society, pull up my weight,” he said.
Jenn Dermott, co-chair of Homeless Connect, said lasting relationships forged during the event can make a big difference.
“They might actually be able to meet someone here in a very casual environment that they can then follow up with in the coming weeks, to make an appointment, have some movement made,” she said.
Stephanie Trinh, coordinator of the event’s optometry section, has seen the first-hand effects of the event’s power during her 11 years as a volunteer.
Trinh, who is a licensed optician, said she had an emotional encounter with a former participant.
“He asked me, do I remember him? It took me a while. ‘Oh you actually helped me at Homeless Connect. Because of you giving me a voucher, I was able to get glasses, I was able to get a job, a steady job,’” Trinh said.
“It’s things you do every day [that] you think is normal but to somebody, it’s life-changing for them.”
The Community and Public Services Committee will receive a report on homelessness and housing on Wednesday.