Chaz Smith knows what it likes to be down and out.
As a teen, social ignorance and negative personal circumstances at home combined to leave him homeless and living on the street.
Like many in his situation, his life became isolated and lonely due to the stigma that surrounds homelessness. Finding help on the streets can be difficult, especially when a person’s problems include addictions. If someone is high or drunk it means they are not allowed into shelters at night, which in the winter can be deadly.
This year, as temperatures remain unseasonably high, many people are reveling in lower energy bills and not thinking someone might be huddled in a doorway or alley fighting to stay warm.
Smith, who found his way off the streets, took his negative circumstances and turned it into a way to help others who for various reasons are homeless and in need of aid.
#BeTheChangeyyc is a not-for-profit organization that fills the gap between the street and the shelter, aiding those who at times find themselves trapped outside.
Since it started four years ago, #BeTheChangeyyc has grown from helping roughly a dozen homeless people each week to 150 to 200 every Wednesday when volunteers walk the downtown streets of Calgary handing out tangible items including clothes, food, bottled water, toiletries and even sleeping mats made from crocheted plastic bags.
However, the strategy isn’t just temporarily alleviating the symptoms of homelessness, Smith and his volunteers aim to help people off the streets for good.
The handouts are the first step allowing volunteers to build relationships before they can give homeless people the hand up they need to change their circumstances.
The organization also focuses on connecting clients to shelters, detox centres and other resources that will help end the cycle of homelessness, with the ultimate goal of opening an outreach centre that would provide a safe space for homeless to shower, get computer access and do laundry.
Smith’s group could not have come at a better time or to a better place. While, recent stats show a dip in the homeless population in Calgary, there were still 2,911 homeless people in the city according to the 2018 Point-in-Time Homeless Count released by the Calgary Homeless Foundation back in April. That means that nearly 60 per cent of the province’s homeless are in Calgary. Though a substantial decrease from 2016 statistics that recorded more than 3,200 homeless in the city, there are still thousands who need help and some of them could be from Cochrane and area.
Cochranites who are moved to help now have an opportunity to by donating winter gear to help keep people warm during the season. Donations can be made in a bin located at Cochrane Health and Fitness.
Like the Cochrane donation co-ordinator for #BeTheChangeyyc, Elena Wills, many of us could find ourselves in need at any time. Wills, a married mother of two, found herself in just that situation after her husband was laid off due to the sluggish Alberta economy.
She and her family were among the many who turned to the Cochrane Activettes and their hamper program to get them through.
Homelessness is a community issue and it’s time to shake off the stereotypes and help people build themselves up to the point that can be free of homelessness.