CALGARY — When he walked the streets here, one bag held all of Jonathon Paterson’s possessions.
“I was homeless for about two-and-a-half years. Without my backpack I would have nothing because my things would get stolen or lost,” says Paterson, a former homeless client. “It gave me a great sense a security to know that everything I had was safely tucked away in one place.”
For Paterson, and the city’s most vulnerable people who call Calgary’s streets home, their possessions travel with them every step they take.
Often, these people have nothing but their pockets to carry their possessions. That’s why mental health outreach nurses Trish Dribnenki, Krystle Lawson and Amanda Loates are asking Calgarians to donate new or used backpacks, so they can provide their clients with a safe place to store and carry their belongings. The three nurses, who work closely with Calgary’s homeless, connect them with the resources they need and have become familiar faces they can trust.
“It’s especially important for our clients to have a safe place to store their medications, job applications, identification, and other personal items including their memories and mementos,” says Lawson, a forensic outreach nurse. “Having a backpack makes it easier for them to keep track of their things and gives them a sense of security that their belongings are safe.”
Regardless of their story of how they wound up where they are, the belongings they carry in their pockets, backpacks and purses are often all they own.
“My backpack was my lifeline when I was on the street” says Paterson. “It contained all of things I needed to survive like food, water and a sleeping bag. It also doubled as a pillow and a chair when I needed it.”
The team hopes to gather enough backpacks so that every homeless person in Calgary has one. They plan to travel with a stash of the donated backpacks, and will supply Alpha House’s Encampment team, who also work with homeless people, with some as well.
“People can’t always reach out. In some situations an individual’s mental health prevents them from trusting people enough to ask for help. Our goal is to help people access the services they need but we can’t just walk up to someone and tell them they need treatment. ” says Dribnenki, a psychiatric outreach nurse.
“A small gesture, like providing them with a backpack, might open a door, and be that opportunity to begin to build trust with some of these people.”
At present, there are about 3,500 homeless people in Calgary; they represent about 54 per cent of Alberta’s homeless population. The 90 or so homeless veterans in Calgary make up about a third of Canada’s homeless veteran population.
“If every homeless person had a backpack it would sure make their lives easier,” says Paterson. “Kind gestures by people go a long way. Smile. Shake hands. Be Human.”
To donate, please drop off your backpack at either of these locations:
- Sunridge Professional Centre, 2675 36 Street NE, Unit 201, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Operational Stress Injury Clinic (OSI Clinic), #203, Market Mall Office Centre, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.
To have your backpack picked up by AHS staff, please call 403-651-0176 or 403-966-8531.