Free services for the homeless offered at Homeless Connect Toronto’s seventh annual event at Mattamy Athletic Centre
Over 1,000 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness filled the Mattamy Athletic Centre for the seventh annual Homeless Connect Toronto event on Oct. 27.
The volunteer-run grassroots organization arranges a yearly one-stop shop event for the homeless community in the city, free-of-charge. This year, it featured 95 agencies offering services such as haircuts, manicures, clothing, eye assessments and dental screenings, as well as help with employment and housing, legal issues and ID replacement.
“You name it, we have it,” said Melody Li, the executive director of Homeless Connect Toronto. With over 1,000 attendees, 500 volunteers and 100 organizers, Li said the event was anticipated by every participant.
“This is something that we recognize needs to happen all the time, people coming together, connecting, whether it’s agencies connecting, whether it’s guests connecting, or our community connecting together,” she said.
Kim Shand and Tim Godlewski, guests at the event, said they recognize the effort it takes to organize it.
“I think it’s really impressive. All of these organizations coming together to impact a very marginalized and deprived group, so it’s really awesome to see this happening today and to be a part of it,” said Shand.
Godlewski said he couldn’t believe this was happening in his city.
“I could come get clothes, get my knapsack; I’m really proud that there’s so many people willing to help the homeless community out there,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know how bad that homeless situation is as prices go up in housing and I think this brings a lot of awareness to the public.”
Dan Berger, general manager of the MAC, said he has been involved in renting the venue to HCT at no cost for the past five years. He said Ryerson will be part of this event for as long as the organization will have them.
“We are huge supporters of it. We hope it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “This is part of what we do at Ryerson and it’s part of our mandate as a venue to reach out to the community.”
Berger said the school is fully supportive of the MAC’s involvement. “This is not a lower-level initiative, its support comes right from the president’s office, the local community… it just makes complete sense as something for us to do,” he said.
Berger added that Ryerson Eats staff members also lend their time and effort to preparing the donated food each year. “They play a huge role in making this work,” he said.
Li said in her seven years as executive director of HCT, she has always been surprised by community reaction. “We might offer 95 services, but really the [guests] are saying that it’s the connection with people that they value the most.”
Berger describes Ryerson’s participation in the event as “willing and accepting hosts.”
“The concept of an open-door policy is something that is part of what the university is all about and I think when you come to Ryerson, you know that,” he said.
With files from CBC Toronto