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Edmonton homelessness event aims to build relationships, lift participants out of poverty

Centralized services for Edmonton’s vulnerable
WATCH ABOVE: More than 1,000 people filled the Edmonton Convention Centre on Sunday for the 22nd Homeless Connect event. The initiative is a one-stop shop for those homeless or living on the poverty line. But as Julia Wong reports, organizers say it is about more than just giving aid.

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.

READ MORE: 486 sleep homeless in Edmonton river valley while shelter beds go unused

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.

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“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.

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

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.

READ MORE: Litter from Edmonton homeless encampments an ongoing issue, say residents, city staff

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.

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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.