The third Homeless Connect took place this past Sunday, and Mack and I were there along with about three hundred other volunteers to lend a hand.
At the volunteer orientation
If you are not aware, Homeless Connect is an event organized by Homeward Trust. Homeward Trust coordinates one day in the spring and one in the fall where numerous organizations gather at the Shaw Conference Centre to provide free services and information. In an effort to provide a “one stop shop” of services for underprivileged individuals, this time around, over 60 groups offered everything from haircuts, dental care, immunizations, clothes, reading glasses, and of course, a hot meal.
At the last Homeless Connect in May, we were blurry eyed after just returning from a weeklong vacation in DC the night before, so I am happy to report that we were better adjusted for the daylong shift this time around. It also helped that this incarnation seemed more organized: the large group orientation started relatively on time; the team orientation was conducted in an enclosed space with a microphone (instead of yelling in the auditory vacuum of the hall); and volunteers had an opportunity to ask questions. Both Mack and I ended up on the registration team (the same position I held last time, but different for Mack), and would be one of the first contacts guests would have as they entered the hall. Our team leads went through the registration form with us, and as a result, I actually felt prepared for the task at hand.
Readying for the doors to open
The day started briskly; people had started to line up an hour or two before the doors opened at 10am. The voluntary registration form we had to administer did not collect names, but did ask details about the person’s current living situation. The big change from the previous form was the extremely tedious list of agencies that clients had to either acknowledge that they were aware of, or had used. While I understand that the answers would be extremely valuable for the agencies in understanding whether or not they are connecting with their target population, it was a cumbersome inventory to get through with some guests. Also new this year was a wristband guests received to indicate that they had completed the registration process, meaning they could bypass the registration area if they had to step outside the hall for whatever reason. Such a small detail, but much appreciated and thought-through.
Our registration table
As this was my second round as a registration volunteer, I was once again struck by how the face of homelessness is not a middle-aged male. There were numerous families with young children, and more than a few guests that were my age. It reminded me to take nothing for granted – many of them, I am sure, could have been on the other side of the desk next to me if not for certain circumstances.
Each guest received a bag with personal care items
In the volunteer rest area, I met a fellow volunteer who said that a year before, he was one of the guests, strung out and in dire need of addictions counselling. It was at the November 2008 Homeless Connect that he was introduced to a program that would change his life – he will be celebrating his one year anniversary of sobriety in just over a month. He was at the event as a client wanting to give back, hoping that his own story might convince others to take the path he did.
The final count of guests was somewhere around 1100 – less than half of what the organizers had prepared for. Somehow, I had thought that the colder weather might have encouraged more people to attend the event, but there are so many factors that influence turnout that it’s hard to pinpoint just one.
Regardless, Homeless Connect is a great event – bravo to Homeward Trust, Shaw Conference Centre and the service providers for another successful day.