By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor
They’d thought of the essentials, and then some. An estimated 40 organizations ranging from social profits to local banks converged at MacDonald Island to provide services to the city’s most vulnerable individuals at the annual Homeless Connect event on October 26.
The all-day event saw a great turnout from those who needed the services. Jennifer Rideout, Housing First Supervisor for the Centre of Hope, explained the goals for Homeless Connect.
“We bring all the essential organizations under one roof for the homeless, near homeless, or even displaced individuals, so they can access these services. This year having the soup kitchen here has made a difference. We have valued items to give out like wool socks, nail clippers, and nail files. We have TD Bank here helping with taxes and Don Scott law office giving legal advice. These service organizations are not something our clients can access easily,” added Rideout, who has been with the Centre of Hope for six years.
During the May 3 wildfire evacuation, Rideout said, the region’s homeless population was evacuated to MacDonald Island first and then to southern communities.
“At the Centre of Hope, we see 40 to 65 patrons a day, which is the amount we are estimating was evacuated during the wildfires. From anecdotal accounts, we know they were evacuated like the general public. They accessed the services south of town, and then on the way back Red Cross gave them plane or bus tickets in order to return home,” explained Rideout.
Homeless Connect, she continued, grows bigger and better every year. And, the biggest draw for this year was having a licensed hair dresser on the premises.
“We had patrons lining up since 8:30 a.m., for Nargis Sameer, who volunteered to provide haircuts. Just talking about it makes me emotional. Nobody ever does this for our patrons. This is amazing. We all provide services here, but she is providing them with her trade all day. There are many here, who wouldn’t have even been at the event if it wasn’t for her. Nargis is exactly what our community needs,” Rideout added.
Community is what brought hairstylist and local business owner Nargis Sameer to the event where she provided 28 haircuts. She recalled meeting a homeless man on Franklin Avenue, who hadn’t had a haircut in eight months, and that was the moment she vowed to give back, and contacted the Centre of Hope.
“It was amazing to be at Homeless Connect. I had trouble with controlling my tears. I feel so lucky to be able to do this. As a practicing Muslim, it’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, especially those who don’t have anyone looking out for them, and especially after the fire when I lost my house. I love my community, and want to help,” said Sameer, who has been in Fort McMurray for almost eight years.
“I was so happy, because they were so happy. They kept asking me if they have to pay, and I kept saying, no you don’t. They couldn’t believe it. Everyone deserves to look good. I want all social profits to know they can contact me for any event, or just for their patrons, and I’ll come and help free of charge,” enthused Sameer.
– Connect Weekly –