October 17, 2014

Homeless Connect: We’re Stronger Together

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This weekend is Homeless Connect, one of the most important events the Shaw Conference Centre has the privilege of hosting on a bi-annual basis.

Started in Edmonton in 2008, Homeless Connect is perhaps most easily thought of as a “Trade Fair” for over 1,400 guests who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The event is spearheaded by Homeward Trust, the organization responsible for implementing Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, established in 2009.

Only instead of jobs, the event provides access to over 65 different social services to guests, completely free of charge.

There’s an ocean of booths, stations and representatives sharing information crucial to those who are homeless or at risk, including Alberta Health Services, housing programs, legal counsel and more.

One of the most crucial services is assistance with acquiring legal ID, an essential for many local aid programs whose services the homeless are unable to access without government issued identification.

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For many, the event is also chance to feel a sense of normalcy again.

“Dignity Services” are among the most popular with guests. Many of these services are things most of us would take for granted, but for someone in a challenging situation, they’re an absolute luxury.

Dental services, eyeglasses and even a make-shift hair salon where guests can get a quick wash and trim are all made available, free of charge.

Guests can take advantage of rare opportunities to get a family photo taken (a reminder that the impacts of homelessness go beyond individuals), access the internet, and get a full load of laundry done – a basic service deeply appreciated by those who have gone without.

Volunteers smudging-credit to Edward Allen

While many services take care of the body, some help to heal the mind and spirit, too.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis are able to seek counsel with an Elder and participate in smudging, an important act of cleansing, healing and reconnecting to their culture. An enormous teepee is erected in the hall, and special care is given to bring in housing and social services specific to Aboriginal guests.

Getting the word out to attendees a real grassroots undertaking.

How do you reach a community that is often relegated to the fringe, is rarely online, and often lacks access to traditional media?

You get boots on the ground and hands in the community.

This year happens to coincide with Homeward Trust’s Homeless Count where volunteers collect statistical data to inform future policy and resources planning. This is also an opportunity to make a personal connection with community members and ensure they are also aware of the Homeless Connect event by posting flyers where they’re sure to be seen, and handing out information cards.

It takes many volunteers and hundreds of hours – but for both those who give of their time and those who attend, it’s all worth it.

As a community, we’re stronger together.

When most people think of the Shaw Conference Centre, their initial thought may be of a building; a meeting place, exhibition hall or banquet venue. But we’re more than that. As a community hub, the Shaw Conference Centre provides service to the public, in this case by leveraging our space and event expertise to help Edmontonians who might be marginalized by their circumstances.

When we care for those who are most in need, we lay the foundation for a brighter, stronger future for the entire Edmonton community.

That’s why many of our staff roll up their sleeves and volunteer for this event every year; it’s why so many other members of the community, from hair stylists to legal workers – make a point of taking part in this event.

Homeless Connect takes place in the spring and fall every year. We’re proud to host this event and gratified to see the impact it can have, both on our community and every individual guest. We hope you’ll consider getting involved. It’s the Edmontonian thing to do.

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