On any given night, over 3,500 people are homeless in Calgary.
On Thursday, Oct. 10, the Calgary Homeless Foundation and the Calgary Committee on Housing and Homelessness are hosting Homeless Awareness Day at Olympic Plaza, an event aimed at educating the public about homelessness in Calgary.
“We’re pretty excited because we have, first of all, the mayor’s proclamation,” said Calgary Homeless Foundation communications manager Louise Gallagher.
Homeless Awareness Day is part of Face It Calgary, a campaign launched in October last year to raise awareness of homelessness.
One of the main goals of Face It Calgary and Homeless Awareness Day is to challenge stereotypes of homeless people and the causes of homelessness.
The idea that all homeless people are jobless is one of those myths. According to Face It Calgary’s website, 40 per cent of Calgary’s homeless are employed.
University of Calgary Native Centre administrative co-ordinator Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes was one of these people.
“I was one of the working homeless. Just because we have a job doesn’t mean we have a home,” Chagnon-Greyeyes said. “I was making minimum wage and then I got a temp job that was $10 an hour — a little more than minimum wage but it’s still not enough to make rent or survive.”
“People assumed I was homeless because I am Aboriginal. There were a lot of assumptions made, ‘she must be too lazy to get out and work or is on social assistance,’ which I was not,” Chagnon-Greyeyes said.
In addition to challenging stereotypes, Face It Calgary educates people about how they can help end homelessness and poverty.
There are 40 organizations listed on Face It Calgary’s website that work towards ending or managing homelessness.
The Mustard Seed is one of them. Last year, Peter Liu started the Mustard Seed club at the U of C.
“When I first started, my work was with the Red Cross and a lot of international humanitarian advocacy,” Liu said. “When I started at the Mustard Seed I saw that poverty is such a prevalent problem here at home.”
U of C Mustard Seed club vice-president administrations Eddy Beals said he encourages new volunteers to join.
“[Volunteering] is a little intimidating to get into at first,” Beals said. “Not in the volunteering material itself, but people may get the wrong idea that it takes a lot of commitment. That’s not entirely true. Once you actually start volunteering you realize just how perspective changing it is.”
In 2008, the CHF published a 10-year plan to end homelessness.
“We can end [homelessness],” Gallagher said. “We have, in the past four years, kept it from getting larger. We need to keep the focus on how we get people out of shelters and into housing. Because the longer they stay in shelters the harder it is to get beyond that abject place of homelessness.”
The main principle of the 10-year plan is “Housing First.” This strategy focuses on getting the homeless into homes before looking at the issues that put them on the street in the first place.
A study done by the CHF showed that the housing-first strategy decreases costs and the number of people who end up homeless again.
Gallagher said people should look at candidates’ plans for affordable housing in the upcoming municipal election.
“[Voters] should be asking [candidates] ‘where are you on the issue of secondary suites?’ ” Gallagher said. “When did you last go and take a tour of one the shelters or visit one of the affordable housing projects?”
Liu said he needs student support to forward his cause.
“To fight poverty we need the entire campus. We need all of Calgary,” Liu said. “It doesn’t take that much commitment. It’s very flexible. Give it a try and see if you like it. What you’re really doing is giving hope to people. You are leaving behind a legacy.”