Engaging Vulnerable People Workshop
Calgary Drop in Centre

This blog post focuses on a few of our Shapers' experiences at the Calgary Drop in Centre's workshop on Engaging Vulnerable People. Check out what they have to say below!

What was the workshop about?

Umair- The workshop covered the several aspects of engaging vulnerable people and revolved mostly around Calgary’s homeless population. It started off with detailing all the services available to vulnerable people in Calgary after which we were taught important facts about vulnerable people which helped us understand them better. The facilitator of the workshop taught us practical advices on approaching vulnerable people and offering them help. The workshop ended with a tour of the facility.

Sonika - I agree with Umair’s description of the workshop. As someone that has volunteered and worked with vulnerable populations for close to a decade, I thought that this workshop was one of the best that I have attended. Samantha gave a lot of context behind homelessness - poverty, the cycle of poverty and abuse - which I think a lot of individuals don’t realize if they have not worked intimately with that population before. I think Samantha’s presentation really humanized vulnerable populations and this approach helps individuals attending to be able to relate better to these vulnerable populations. If you want to attend the Engaging Vulnerable Populations workshop or learn more go here: http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Centre-City/Engaging-Vulnerable-People.aspx?redirect=/evpworkshop

Vicky - For people like me who had little knowledge about homelessness, the workshop led by Samantha built a bridge to my heart. The presentation and the interactive activities enabled me to understand the causes for homelessness, how to best engage with this vulnerable population, where the social support system needs help from the community, and much more.

What I learned that most surprised me during the workshop.

Umair- Anyone can be subjected to a series of unfortunate events and find themselves homeless. Many homeless people do not use drugs, have jobs and are highly functioning.

Sonika - I was surprised to learn how structured everything is at the Drop In centre. That you have to show up at a certain time for meals and wait in lines, sign up on lists to be woken up or to get a bagged lunch. It’s intuitive and makes sense now that I know it; however, being a very independant person myself it made me reflect how I would do if I had to live in such a structured environment. It made me realize that some of the advice I give to patients who are homeless may be hard to follow when living in such a structured environment - and I took that for granted before the workshop.

Chris Dumont- The number of resources available and what each one is best for. We were given a card that gives a summary of who to call for which purpose:

  • For emergencies use 9-1-1: For violence or a criminal situation occurring
  • Calgary Police Services Non-Emergency (403) 266- 1234: For any reason that you feel that the situation would be better dealt with by the police but there are no threats to anyone’s safety. Police will attend on a lesser priority response time and address the situation
  • Alpha House- D.O.A.P. Team (403) 998-7388: If you observe an individual who appears to be intoxicated, loitering, trespassing or sleeping in an area that they should not be but otherwise appears peaceful and is not being aggressive
  • 3-1-1: To report any concerns such as graffiti, patio panhandlers, shopping carts, or buskers

The workshop also opened my eyes to the fact that being homeless could happen to anyone. As of January 2014 there were 3,533 homeless in Calgary, but most go to school or to work and come back to the shelter at the end of their work or school day. Some stats: 82% are homeless for less than 30 days, 15% are episodic (short but repeated stays at a shelter over a period of 5 years or longer) and only 2% are chronically homeless (but use 35% of all available beds) and 30% to 35% of the homeless likely suffered trauma as a child or suffer from a mental illness. Some of us when we think of the homeless most likely picture the 2%, but the stats really humanize the stereotype that some people have.

Vicky - Various charitable and government agencies have been making great effort on uniting their services to provide a social support system for vulnerable population in the city. However, there are still gaps in general public’s understanding on what particular service each agency provides, the limits on services offered and inappropriate referral between agencies, and the dilemma of meeting vulnerable people’s short-term and long-term needs.

What I learned on the tour of the Drop In Centre that I didn’t expect to learn.

Umair- Your instinct may be to try and help someone by solving their problem but sometimes just listening can be very helpful!

Chris Dumont- The drop-in centre in Calgary is the largest in Canada. The size and scope of the facility and how structured it all is was very eye opening. For example, each floor has its own purpose. It’s all arranged in a way to help make the maximum impact for the most people providing support in a number of different ways from overnight stays from the cold and providing meals to helping those get back on their feet with their own personal space while they find work.

Vicky - Services at the Drop In Centre are very disciplined to be highly-functioning due to the large volume of clients. Individuals who cannot make it to the DI during scheduled time for meal service or acceptance for staying overnight will have to starve or sleep on the street. It’s not always the individual’s choice to be late for services, e.g. the individual has to work late.

Ways I’m hoping to help the Drop In Centre / homeless population as a community member.

Umair- Donate men’s clothing! Most of the homeless population are men however most of the clothing donations come from women. I’ve got 2 bags of clothes and 2 pairs of shoes ready to donate!

Sonika - It was great to hear about the Downtown Outreach Addictions Program (DOAP) team. The DOAP team assists vulnerable individuals in the community to get to a safe place. It’s a great alternative to calling 911 for someone who is intoxicated in the community and can help transport those under the influence to addiction treatment.

Chris Dumont- Also to donate the clothes I no longer use. The drop in centre is in high demand for men’s clothes since the majority users of their facility are men

Vicky - Less judgement and more respect next time I engage with a vulnerable person.

Ways I’m hoping to help the Drop In Centre / homeless population in Calgary as a part of Global Shapers.

Chris Dumont- I’d like to organize a group volunteering session with Global Shapers for the drop in centre so we can see first hand the impact we’re having on the community

Vicky - Utilizing the Global Shapers’ vast network to bridge the gaps in general public’s understanding of different services offered by each agency.