Homeless Connect YEG brings those on the edge of society into contact with care
With a chill in the air, there are thoughts of winter preparation echoing throughout the city. What this involves depends on where you’re at.
According to Homeward Trust, the homeless population in Edmonton as of October 2016 sits at roughly 1,752, depending on the season. In the winter months, life is especially severe for those that are either homeless or at risk of becoming so.
“We typically see more guests coming through the door for the fall event than we do for the spring event,” says Jenn Dermott with the United Way who is also co-chair of Homeless Connect Edmonton. “Just because they really need those tangibles; they’re looking for winter boots; they’re looking for warmer clothing and coats.”
Running two events a year (spring and fall) since 2008, the aid event meets many of the physical needs of the low-income and homeless by providing services like foot care, haircuts, massage and chiropractic care, optometry, audiology, healthcare (diabetes and blood pressure checks), prenatal care, and warm clothing and footwear, among the 70 total service providers at the event.
“The haircuts are actually the most visited service,” Dermott says. “There’s a line immediately as the doors open and line just continues to grow all day.”
Dermott says hundreds of haircuts happen throughout the course of the day, but one simple haircut can go a long way.
The chances of getting a job having had a haircut and a shower are much more likely, which can be life-changing. Not to mention the benefits it delivers to self-confidence.
“We’ve got guests that walk in and they’ve been living rough for say the last three months, so that means they’ve been living in a tent in the river valley,” Dermott says. “They walk in and their hair is long and scruffy and they’ve got these big beards, and they go in and get a shave and a haircut and they look like a completely different person,” she says. “They’ll walk past friends and not even recognize each other.”
But, the guests that attend don’t always fit the picture you may have in your head.
Brian Dompé, who’s been volunteering with Homeless Connect for over five years, recalls helping a woman and her young girls that were at risk of becoming homeless due to domestic violence. He says she was living in a motel at the time and came to find clothing for her girls for school.
Dompé can remember realizing just how quickly your life can change to a situation like that.
“It only take a blink of an eye. You can be in an accident, you can suffer from loss of a loved one, be involved in some kind of violence,” he says. “Life can change quickly.”
This month, Edmonton’s Social Planning Council’s Vital Signs report found that about 20,000 Edmonton households earn less than $20,000 per year and spend over 50 percent of income on rent—a state considered to be “core housing need.” As of July 2017 the waitlist for Capital Region Housing (low-income housing) sits at 4,965.
While Homeless Connect has been running for nine years, new service providers continually crop up. This year, Audiologist Alex Gascon will be bringing the first audiology booth to Homeless Connect. He will bring a team of eight from his clinic to perform hearing assessments and cerumen management.
Though he’s not expecting a higher amount of hearing problems than the rest of the population, Gascon says there is a chance that a higher number of untreated ear infections and health related problems can cause hearing loss to develop much more quickly.
Similarly, when feet are the only mode of transportation and they’re dependent on shelters, a cut or an injury to the foot is extremely detrimental. Mental health is also interwoven into the pain and anxiety that can surround a physical issue like this.
By alleviating some of these basic physical problems, mental ailments also end up getting addressed. Homeless Connect Edmonton has the profound ability to make its guests closer to their true selves by addressing the basic aggravations of mental health.
When walking around dealing with where to sleep and how to stay warm and fed, the mental toll is oppressive and affects behaviour, even over the long-term.
Beyond the physical and mental care, Homeless Connect holds two smudging ceremonies throughout the day with available Elders. Dermott notes that 56 percent of May’s guests identified as indigenous.
To run something this massive is no small task. There are 450 service provider volunteers that show up to provide care to guests and roughly 350 event volunteers. Amazingly, volunteer slots often book quickly, showing a massive base of helpful hands that exist in Edmonton.
She’s seen absolute shock and gratitude from past guests due to the sheer number of volunteers and service providers that show up to each event.
“Most of us like to think that we’re self-made,” says Dompé. “We don’t choose the family that we’re born into, we don’t get to choose whether our mom drinks or does drugs while she’s carrying us.”
Sun., Oct. 15 (10 – 3 pm)
Homeless Connect YEG
Shaw Conference Centre