‘Homeless in Waterloo’ page created to raise awareness

Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Members of the community in the Waterloo Region have been nothing but supportive of the newly developed Homeless in Waterloo Facebook page.

The overwhelmingly positive response has been encouraging for founder, fourth-year Wilfrid Laurier University business and administration student, Justin Chan.

The page was started March 9 of this year, with the intention of breaking the social stigma associated with the homeless population in Waterloo.

Chan says his personal inspiration for starting the page came from his own encounters with people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.

“I was always conditioned by society to ignore people experiencing homelessness as a kid. A few years ago, I worked an internship in downtown Toronto, in the middle of the winter,” Chan said.

“Every time I walked to my office I would pass the same 11 people. It got to the point where I recognized these people’s faces, but I never actually took the time to get to know them.”

According to the Region of Waterloo, the emergency shelter system served 3,492 unique individuals in 2013. This statistic represented a 25 per cent increase in bed use from 2008.

Individuals experiencing homelessness often face a social isolation from the rest of their community due to a lack of education about homelessness within the community.

Chan recalls an encounter he had talking to a man living on the streets in Toronto during his co-op term.

“Jeremy was experiencing homelessness for about a year and he was trying to save enough money to sleep in a hotel for the night. He said that the hardest part about being homeless, more difficult than finding food or shelter, is the fact that he is regularly ignored by society,” said Chan.

The page was modelled after Humans of New York, another Facebook page that documents interactions with people through photographs and quotations.

Chan said the difference between the two pages comes from Homeless in Waterloo’s effort to continue the connection with the people featured on their page.

“We want the photo to be the beginning of our journey with them, rather than the end. After the story is shared, we make sure to keep in touch with the person, let them see their post, let them edit their post and also let them accept help from our community,” Chan said.

Photos posted on the page have reached upwards of 400 likes and 60 shares, with positive comments flowing in from the online community.

The community has also taken the initiative to give a helping hand to individuals featured on the page. One young woman was offered a bedroom by a member of the community, along with an outpour of other donations from supporters of the page.

Chan hopes to eventually scale the project with the help of his partner, Konica Kochar, University of Waterloo student.

“I want to test the project in the K-W community and improve it as much as I can before I even consider moving somewhere else. We still have a long way to go before we’re ready to expand in to another location. We want to get a website set up and we want to have more official processes,” Chan said.

Members of the community are encouraged to like the page and offer support in any way they can, whether it be through sharing the photos or offering assistance to individuals photographed.

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