As anyone in business can tell you, sometimes the difference between success and failure is simply a matter of making the right connection.
That's the impetus behind Tri-Cities Connect Day, a gathering of almost two dozen non-profits, government agencies and businesses volunteers to help local homeless people get access to some badly needed services. Connect Day runs Monday, Oct. 15 at the Kingsway Campus of Northside Church, on Kingsway Avenue in PoCo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"The intent is to provide quite a variety of services under one roof, just to make it easier for people who need the services and might not even be aware of the services," said Sandy Burpee, chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group, which organizes the event. "People who are homeless or at risk of homelessness have an opportunity to come and get some of their needs met."
Volunteers will connect homeless folk who come in with 18 services including counselling for drug or alcohol addiction, mental health care, eye exams provided by Douglas College's optometry program, and immunizations for hepatitis, flu and pneumonia, foot care, reflexology, as well as haircuts and makeovers. Even bicycle repair is on the agenda.
"It's quite a wide variety of services to choose from and there's probably something for everyone," Burpee said. Haircuts, by the way, are the most popular request from attendees.
Now into its fourth year, Connect Day has been growing in popularity as word about it has spread.
"The first year, about 50 people came. The second year, 70. Last year, there was 94," Burpee said, though in previous years, the event was held in conjunction with a food bank day at the same location, he added.
And the response from participants is almost always positive.
"Most people seem very grateful that it's there. Some people might just access one service. Some might access several, but we do exit surveys and we find there is a high degree of gratitude for the services," Burpee said.
Despite the increasing popularity of Connect Day, the overall picture of homelessness is improving, especially in the Tri-Cities, Burpee said.
"There has been a dramatic reduction over the last couple of years. In 2008, there were, according to outreach workers, over 200 [homeless people] and now there's in the order of 50 or so and that hasn't necessarily been reflected in the communities that are our neighbours. Here, I believe it's due to the very good work of the outreach teams, and also the over-the-winter shelter programs that we've been running," Burpee said.
While Burpee never has difficulties finding participants and volunteers to run the event, there is something the average person can do that would go a long way in alleviating the stress felt by local homeless people.
"I think as far as people who are actually homeless are concerned, they often feel anonymous - that they're invisible. So when someone comes across someone who is homeless, instead of ignoring them and turning their head and going the other way, just saying 'Hello,' being pleasant and open minded . I think that's the more important thing you can do," he said.
Similar Connect Days are being held across the Lower Mainland as part of Homelessness Action Week.