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Annual Abbotsford Connect gives homeless a hand

Even if the stories about the chicken manure incident have begun to fade into the past, Abbotsford’s homeless have not been forgotten.

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By Megan Lambert (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 22, 2014

Among the many other services it offered, Abbotsford Connect provided free breakfast and lunch to those in need. (Image: Megan Lambert / The Cascade)

Among the many other services it offered, Abbotsford Connect provided free breakfast and lunch to those in need. (Image: Megan Lambert / The Cascade)

Even if the stories about the chicken manure incident have begun to fade into the past, Abbotsford’s homeless have not been forgotten.

Abbotsford Connect is an annual event that brings together various community service providers, faith-based organizations, and non-profit agencies to offer help to those who are homeless or in need. Held on Saturday, October 18, this year’s event at Sevenoaks Alliance Church saw approximately 250 guests making use of the complimentary services.

Free services like haircuts, medical treatments, photography, and a kids’ corner had people lining up in the hallways of the church. Volunteers welcomed anyone who visited, directing them to wherever they needed to go.

“It’s about keeping their dignity,” an event greeter said outside the hair salon, where stylists were offering free cuts, trims, and makeovers.

As well, organizations that offer long-term aid — including Narcotics Anonymous, Service Canada, and the Salvation Army — had booths set up with representatives waiting for visitors to wander into the church’s sanctuary.

“Some of them wait all year to see a doctor,” chair of the event and UFV criminal justice alumna Megan Capp said, as the more immediate, practical booths filled up quickly. “After those basic needs are taken care of a bit, they can enjoy themselves and mingle with the other service providers.”

In a change from last year, this time there were no optical services. However, additions included a new bike repair service, a mobile hearing clinic, and a “live-on-tour library” from the Fraser Valley Regional Library, which also provided background music in the parking lot.

A volunteer serving free breakfast observed that last year the church gymnasium filled up with people twice throughout the day (the gym holds about 200), and that this year there weren’t as many attending the event. However, Capp says that while “last year there was more of an immediate rush of people, this year it was steady throughout the day.”

A population survey from earlier this year counted 151 homeless people in Abbotsford; however, this doesn’t include families living on or below the poverty line. Basic needs such as meals, housing, and clothing can be more costly than what minimum-wage earners can afford. Affordable housing, as defined by the Abbotsford Community Foundation, costs 30 per cent or less of a household income. However, a quarter of people living in Abbotsford spend more than that.

Most of the attendees at Abbotsford Connect receive income from disability and income assistance. According to Abbotsford Connect statistics, roughly half of attendees mentioned couch-surfing or living on the street as their place of residency, as opposed to basement suites or apartments.

Although the causes and solutions for homelessness and poverty are complex and require long-term attention, Capp says that for now, “[Abbotsford Connect] is what we can do.

“Seeing the pride and dignity in some of the participants shows me the value in this event,” she said.

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