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Second Pop-up Care Village provides services, dignity to homeless Calgarians

Hundreds of staff and volunteers from social services agencies, and homeless and housing vulnerable Calgarians joined together for the second Pop-up Care Village event held in Calgary.

The semi-annual event connects vulnerable populations with a variety of different social service and health care agencies, barbers, massage therapists, entertainers, and food vendors in a single accessible location.

The goal, said organizers, is to provide equitable access to services and to uphold the principles of inherent human dignity.

“What we wanted to do was bring all services into one place, for people to access them on a spot right here,” said Bill Zheng, co-event manager for the Pop-up Care Village.

“We’re also based on the philosophy of radical hospitality, and that’s what we’ve been really trying to push with the over 100 volunteers that we have today throughout the day.”

Attendees could grab a slice of pizza from Boston Pizza, spend some time with a pet from the Pet Access League Society, get a massage and a haircut, and then access services from Alberta Health Services, Safe Link, Wood’s Homes, and Rise Calgary among many others.

“It’s been super cool to have this not only Pop-up Care Village, but also just a place where people can come in and warm up, enjoy their time, have conversations, feel included, feel worthy, and have dignity,” said Hannah Woodward, co-event manager for the Pop-up Care Village.

Zheng and Woodward organized Calgary’s first event, that was held at Olympic Plaza in September of last year.

The pair said that a third Pop-up Care Village would be held again on Sept. 27, at Olympic Plaza.

Feedback helps to inform care

Zheng said that they received a lot of feedback from the first event. That helped to inform how to better provide all types of services and entertainment to visitors at the second.

He said that the feedback that vendors gave them too from their interactions with visitors was also incredibly positive.

“I think a lot of people were so amazed by receiving different kinds of care that normally wouldn’t get it,” he said.

“For example, massage therapy: The vendor was telling us afterward that people were freaking crying afterwards, because they’ve never really—for a long time now—have had someone touching you in a loving way.”

He said that they also wanted to create an event that wasn’t just for homeless Calgarians, but was accessible and interesting to everyone.

“That’s why we have multiple different kinds of people and multiple different services here as well, that’s catered towards very different populations that we’re serving.”

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci, who represents the Downtown Core, along with former Calgary City Councillor and Alberta NDP Candidate Druh Farrell attended the event.

Ceci said it was great to see “that people are here, and they’re sharing smiles and talks, and kind of just getting some positives from each other.”

“Day in day out the homeless population struggle with their own challenges, as well as instrumental challenges about where to live, the services they need to support them, so the fact that people can come over here and find that all in a one-stop shop, it is really helpful in their lives.”

Services close to home, and from far-away

Tracy Basin, a volunteer with the Pet Access League Society, and “chauffeur” to Leo, a six-year-old Siamese cat, attended the event to provide equitable pet access alongside other PALS volunteers.

“PALS, it’s a pet therapy program, and so really when there’s a lot of events going on around Calgary, we’re here to provide support and much-needed happiness to a lot of people with animals.”

“It’s amazing how people bringing even a cat or a dog and bring really people together.”

She said that there was a lesson from the cats and dogs at an event like the Pop-up Care Village.

“A cat does not discriminate, a dog does not discriminate… for my cat, it doesn’t matter where you live in the city, homeless or not homeless, my cat will run up and give a lot of love.”

Members of St. John’s Ambulance were also attending from Ontario, in an effort to make nasal naloxone kits and training more accessible.

That form of anti-overdose medication is less in use in Alberta, compared to inter-muscular injections, largely as a result of higher costs.

“We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. People are very grateful that we have the nasal naloxone,” said Chiara Guido.

“It’s not as accessible, especially with indigenous communities we’ve been talking to. People just don’t have the same amount of access to it, so I think people are very grateful that we’re here and able to offer them kits.”

She said that they would be happy to keep attending more Pop-up Care Villages, and to provide continued support to events like it.

For more information, see c-pucv.ca.