Out in the cold

By Erin Ludwig

In the hustle of campus life, it can be easy to forget there are those less privileged than most students. The organizers of Calgary’s Homeless Awareness Week are hoping to change this forgetfulness, with a number of events scheduled to highlight just how serious the situation is for some Calgarians.

Organized by local businesses, the first Homeless Awareness Week took place in 1995. Homeless Awareness Week is now organized by Homeless Awareness Calgary, and while 10 years of development has seen the issue come a long way, there is still work to be done.

“Most Calgarians have no idea what a struggle it is,” said HAC Chair Carrie Neilson. “People need to see how demoralizing and exhausting it is. We’ve normalized poverty with children, with seniors, even with the disabled.”

Events include a kick off in Riley Park Sun., Sept. 18 at 11:30 a.m. Subsequent events include a Salvation Army open house, a youth concert and tours of the Mustard Seed Street Ministry. To illustrate the realities of life on the street, a downtown nighttime tour of Calgary is also planned.

Until recently, HAC hosted only Homeless Awareness Week. They now hope to have quarterly events, with campaigns in each quadrant of the city.

According to HAC, as of May 12, 2004 more than 2,500 people were living without permanent residence on Calgary streets.

HAC is not the only group committed to advocating homeless awareness. The Mustard Seed, a non-profit Christian humanitarian organization deals daily with the challenges of helping provide shelter, food, clothing and work for those finding themselves in need.

Both HAC and the Mustard Seed depend on community help, both financially and with volunteer work to accomplish their goals. This is why Homeless Awareness Week is so important to these groups.

HAC receives no provincial funding and the Mustard Seed receives only eight per cent of their total yearly budget from all three levels of government combined.

“A lot of the time we have blinders on,” said Development Director of the Mustard Seed Diana Schwenk. “[People] have a fear of the unknown. We work hard to do preventative things and dispel the myths.”

Schwenk and other workers from the Mustard Seed travel to different Calgary schools and businesses, giving presentations related to both the Mustard Seed’s programs and drug prevention.

“Homelessness is an affront to our justice system,” said Neilson. “It’s about social justice.”