Last weekend Homeward Trust Edmonton and its community partners held their biannual Homeless Connect event at the Shaw Conference Centre. The event is a one-stop-shop of free essential services for Edmontonians experiencing homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless. These services include everything from housing and employment information to addictions counselling and STI testing to haircuts and clean clothing. More than 1,000 Edmontonians are estimated to have attended the day long event.
Homeless Connect is organized by a committee of community organizations and is driven by hundreds of volunteers. This was my fourth time volunteering.
Rather than focusing on the traditional emergency shelter model, the plan relies heavily the principles of Housing First, which focus on providing stable housing for homeless individuals. According to Homeward Trust, close to 2,000 people have found housing through the Housing First support program since 2009 and over 80% successfully remain in housing.
As a volunteer at Homeless Connect over the past two years, I have noticed that many of the guests accessing the services at the event are not homeless, but are working and living in poverty.
According to a report released by the Edmonton Social Planning Council in late 2011, the number of children living in poverty rose dramatically from 53,000 to 73,000 from 2008 and 2009. The average number of Albertans living in poverty is estimated to be around 400,000.
The plan would be ambitious and the lack of details are a concern, but it is not unrealistic considering the positive steps already taken by the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. If any jurisdiction in Canada has the resources to reduce poverty and end chronic homelessness, it is Alberta.
According to the announcement during the campaign, consultations for the poverty reduction plan will begin in May 2012.