Amanda Dauvin was homeless twice before turning 15, and still remembers sleeping under a park bench, tightly holding her belongings and feeling completely alone.
Now a holistic therapist and mother, Dauvin recently shared her experiences with members of the Inner City Agencies Foundation (ICAF), an alliance of seven agencies that raises funds and provides services to alleviate poverty-related problems such as housing, addiction, healthcare and education in Edmonton.
“We can either choose to see homelessness as a permanent, unfixable problem that maybe doesn’t even concern us, or we can choose to recognize ourselves as the ones with the honour of making real and effective change,” she told a packed audience at the foundation’s Mac and Cheese Luncheon fundraiser March 22.
As a teenager, Dauvin first fled home with her mother to a shelter to avoid her abusive, opioid- addicted father. After briefly returning home, she left again, this time on her own, and began living on the streets.
She eventually went into foster care and connected with a social worker who helped rebuild her life. But homelessness and other poverty-related issues remain close to her heart, and she is committed to raising awareness.
The homeless population in Edmonton has steadily dropped since reaching an all-time high of 3,079 people in 2008, when unemployment rates soared during a major recession in Alberta’s economy. According to the most recent count in 2016, a total of 1,752 homeless people were living in the city. A report by the housing advocacy group Homeward Trust said that included 146 children and 157 people in the 18-24 age group.
Dauvin explains that ICAF members support different demographics in the homeless population. For example, E4C, a non-profit charity founded by four downtown Christian churches in 1970, focuses on homeless youth, a particularly vulnerable group.
Today E4C reaches more than 13,000 Edmontonians each year with programs focused on poverty-related issues such as homelessness and food security.
Patricia Bounds represents St. Joseph’s Basilica and serves as vice-chair on the E4C board. Now that she’s retired, she’s glad to have the opportunity to help.
“I feel a connection between the Basilica — which is my church — and the work of E4C,” said Bounds. The Basilica provides funding and volunteers to E4C for their work with homeless youth.
A 2014 report by Homeward Trust on youth homelessness found that youth often suffer from physical, mental or sexual abuse before becoming homeless, and are often sexually exploited while living on the streets. The report also noted that children and teens who become homeless are forced into adulthood without basic life skills. Bringing awareness of organizations like E4C, said Bounds, can make a huge difference.
“We’re finding a lot of people in Edmonton don’t know what [E4C] is and haven’t heard of it, so any opportunity we can have to spread the word about what it is and what it does are wonderful, and this is a great event for that,” said Bounds.
Dauvin notes that while adults have more access to resources, they often don’t know how to reach out and use them. This is especially true for seniors, who are more vulnerable than adults.
“My hope is we can target each of those demographics so that it draws us a little bit closer to abolishing homelessness for good, and at least provide some care and compassion and comfort along the way,” said Dauvin.
Dauvin believes that people need first to understand what homelessness is like by listening to those who have experienced it first-hand—such as herself.
“I believe one solution lies in the simple act of listening to the stories of those you’re here to support today and doing so free from judgment so we can truly make an effective change.”
Edmonton’s next homeless count will take place on April 11-12, in conjunction with similar counts across the country. For more information or to volunteer, visit http://homewardtrust.ca/planning-research/homeless-count/homeless-count-volunteer