On Sunday, Mack and I volunteered for the seventh Homeless Connect, the “one-stop shop” of services for those who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless. It takes place twice at year at the Shaw Conference Centre.
Homeward Trust always does a great job of coordinating the event (not easy if you consider all of the logistics and players involved), but what is most impressive is that they are never complacent – the staff are always looking for ways of improving the event. This time, for example, they began the orientation period earlier so that volunteers would have a chance to better familiarize themselves with the layout and the services available (something I know I would have appreciated as a new volunteer). As well, they introduced a pre-registration component for the first time.
Mack and I were among a dozen experienced registration volunteers who were asked to help pre-register guests. For about an hour before the doors to the halls opened, we did our best to get through as many people as possible. The intention was to help reduce the bottleneck, and to help service providers better manage the flow of guests – particularly those services which are heavily used, such as dental and hair.
The form, which always changes slightly, will need to be tweaked again. There were way too many options to choose from in the “Where did you hear about the event” question (I’m not sure most volunteers would be able to tell the difference between an “Agency” and a “Service Provider”) and there were a number of options in the immigration-related section that could overlap (e.g. Temporary Foreign Workers and Refugee Claimants could be seeking permanent residence; refugees are likely also landed immigrants). But I realize the data committee just wants to collect as much information as possible to help with future planning, and this event is a good place to do so.
At 10am, we joined the rest of the larger registration team in the hall, and the madness began. Mack and I both figured the numbers of guests this time had to have been extremely high – typically, the line dissipates by around noon, but on Sunday, it was still going strong by the time our shift was over at 12:30.
This was also the first time in the five Homeless Connect events that I have been a part of where I was confronted by a guest who perhaps should have been removed. He was visibly angry and frustrated by the time he reached me at the registration desk – he was upset that he couldn’t get a hot meal right at that moment (lunch wouldn’t be served for another half an hour). Although he had the option of not completing the form, he simply did not want to leave the chair, swearing profusely at several other volunteers who offered to bring him coffee, or take him somewhere to lie down. Two Shaw security officers showed up, but he refused to go with them. Eventually, he filled out the form on his own accord, and stormed off into the hall. While this guest’s behaviour didn’t surprise me (he may have been facing addictions and mental health issues, among other things), what did surprise me was that he was permitted to disrespect and verbally abuse those around him without consequence. I doubt that kind of behaviour would be tolerated at local shelters and drop-in centres, so why would it be accepted here? Hopefully it was just a one-time blip, and not the policy of the event.
Other than that, I really enjoyed my time as a volunteer. It’s such a rewarding event to be a part of, especially when all it takes is a few hours of your time. Kudos to the organizers for another well-run day. Looking forward to Homeless Connect 8 in May!