A local grassroots organization hopes its latest initiative will help the city’s most vulnerable connect with the services they need to survive.
On Tuesday, Be the Change YYC hosted the city’s first-ever pop-up care village at Olympic Plaza, bringing “anyone experiencing systemic vulnerabilities” such as homelessness and addiction together with those services.
“All in one place,” says Be the Change founder and CEO Chaz Smith.
“So today we have, you know, housing, health care, case management, we have food, water, outreach supplies.”
Smith, who experienced homelessness himself from 2005 until 2008, says it was those three years that “fuelled” his motivation to start Be the Change in 2015 and initiatives such as the village festival.
“It’s a moment of reminding folks that they’re human and that they are deserving and hopefully that we’re able to end the cycle of homelessness through providing an equitable service in this way,” he adds.
Ideally, anyone in attendance on Tuesday experiencing homelessness or addiction could get a bite to eat, as well as get a haircut, a massage, a resume, or even take that next step to getting off the street.
Bill Zheng says the festival is a huge convenience for the vulnerable population, since access to the services at the event were limited during the two years of the pandemic.
Zheng, who is a first-year nursing student at the University of Calgary, got the idea to bring the pop-up festival to Calgary after seeing the success of LavaMae’s Pop-Up Care Village in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“We thought that bringing a public care village like this will boost the confidence in the population, in the vulnerable population that they can trust these services, they can access us if they need it,” says Zheng.
“That’s kind of the importance of such an event at this critical timing,” he says.
It’s critical timing for people like Daniel Doucet who has been living on the streets of Calgary for nearly a year.
“I lost my job, my income, and then I applied for EI and I got denied,“ says Doucet.
Since November, the one-time semi-truck driver went from hauling goods across the country to hauling his life in a cart.
“I couldn’t get any welfare, so I had to rely on living on the street and just panhandling for the money I earn every day,” he added.
Life changed just as fast for Amber Meyer and her dog Jacqueline who have both been unhoused for nearly two months.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to kind of map or access all these resources when they’re looking for help, so (the pop-up care village) is a good idea,” says Meyer.
As of 2018, Be the Change YYC says there were nearly 3,000 people who called the streets of Calgary home.
However, that number is skewed given the many living in encampments outside the city as well as those who are invisibly homeless, including couch surfers and those temporarily staying with friends or relatives that aren’t accounted for.