My experience with Alternative Reading Week

Jenna Ronnmark - 03 December 2021

Alternative Reading Week is a week-long program that supports residents in learning about social issues within the community. This year's focus was houselessness. Having just moved to Edmonton, I didn’t know much about the community, and this was a great opportunity for me to get to know it better.

The focus of this week was houselessness in Edmonton, specifically houseless youth. Houseless youth are not so different than average—they simply lack the resources that average youth have, and houselessness is dependent on many factors such as familial situations and income.

This is an issue that impacts many youth in Edmonton, but we can never hope to make positive change in the community unless we learn more about the topic. Alternative Reading Week is a great opportunity for residents to come together and learn about the hardships that houseless youth endure, not to mention the new perspectives that you'll learn.

This year, I had the opportunity to see the impacts of houselessness on youth first hand through learning activities and going out into the community.

Structural barriers

There are many structural barriers you may not think about that directly target houseless people, such as bars on benches or random spikes on ledges. These purposeful barriers are built specifically to prevent houseless people from sleeping on benches when that funding could go towards resources and shelter. This feels like an unnecessary use of money to me that could go much further in other ways.

Shelters don’t always have the capacity to house many people at once, especially with COVID-19 limiting their capacity and reducing the number of individuals who can be in indoor spaces. This means houseless people are often left with nowhere else to go and prevented from using public spaces like city benches to lay down.

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LGBTQ2+ houseless community

Many LGBTQ2+ youth are kicked out of their homes simply because of who they love or who they are, and they end up on the streets. There they experience a lack of resources as well as further discrimination as a lot of shelters don’t welcome LGBTQ2+ youth. Unfortunately, a lot of LGBTQ2+ individuals experience hardships alone and die on the streets.

CHEW Drop In Centre

The CHEW Project is a youth drop in centre here in Edmonton that helps LGBTQ2+ youth facing obstacles with houselessness, mental health, substance use and much more. They also provide basic necessities such as showers, clothing and emergency food hampers.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at CHEW and helped in cleaning the centre and getting to know about the work they do there. It was an eye opening experience—the staff and volunteers put in so much effort to support the centre and LGBTQ2+ youth and I was so glad to see people in the community make a difference.

CHEW and other drop in centres are \always looking for more volunteers so never hesitate to reach out and join in!

Why you should volunteer

Alternative Reading Week is a great opportunity to meet new people and get involved in the community.

This experience provided me with new perspectives on houselessness that I got to experience with other residents at the university. It is a great opportunity to become more involved in not only the community but residence as well.

I encourage you to participate in future Alternative Reading Weeks to contribute your part in making a difference, no matter how big or small your involvement makes a huge impact.