A new initiative dubbed the ‘We Care’ campaign – aimed at building awareness of issues surrounding homelessness – was launched Tuesday in downtown Red Deer.
“Hopefully, through the campaign we could encourage the community to continue with the conversations about the issues of homelessness and addictions,” said Stacey Carmichael, coordinator for Community Leadership Initiatives for the Red Deer & District Community Foundation and chair of the Red Deer Housing Committee.
“Any increased awareness is success to us,” she said. “We would also like to reduce the stigma and discrimination attached to homeless and vulnerable individuals.”
A web site has been put together as a one-stop shop for everyone from service providers and those in direct need of help to those wanting to learn more about homelessness and addictions, said Kristine Bugayong, the campaign’s project coordinator. Folks can check out www.reddeercares.com for more details.
“We want to raise awareness, have people talking about homelessness and help to increase volunteerism rates with agencies that help the cause,” she said. Other ways the campaign is utilizing to attract attention are a number of sidewalk chalking works with powerful messages pertaining to homelessness. One flanks a garbage can on Gaetz Ave. and points out that ‘no one should have to eat here’.
“We’re also going to have night projections on some of the taller buildings to raise awareness of the issues.”
The ‘We Care’ campaign is part of EveryOne’s Home: Red Deer’s 5 Year Plan Towards Ending Homelessness.
Bugayong said local citizens do care about vulnerable members of society but are sometimes unsure of how to help. A survey done late last year showed that 71 per cent of respondents agreed people suffering from homelessness and addictions should be included as valuable members of the community. But only 40 per cent accurately perceive this as the norm.
That’s what the campaign aims to change, said Bugayong.
“We thought of a way to showcase the amazing work that’s going on in the community and to let the community know that it’s okay to show that you care,” she said. “There are a lot of ways to help, from simply saying ‘hi’ to volunteering your time – every little bit counts.”
As the web site points out, reasons for homelessness are extremely varied. It can stem from a complex set of circumstances that may include domestic violence, housing that’s too expensive, loss of a job, substance abuse, mental illness or lack of significant relationships.
“The reality is that homeless folks look the same as everyone else,” said Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network. “There are homeless folks today who are employed – they slept in a shelter last night, but this morning they went to work.”
Vanderschaeghe agreed that the community cares about the homeless.
“We as Central Albertans want to be good neighbours and good community members, and the research shows that we already are.”
The campaign was spearheaded by the Red Deer & District Community Foundation and the Central Alberta Addictions Consortium and partners including the Red Deer Housing committee, Central Alberta AIDS Network, Loaves and Fishes, Red Deer Native Friendship Society, Safe Harbour Society, Street Ties – Parkland Youth Homes and the City of Red Deer.
Again, for more information visit www.reddeercares.com.