For individuals working on the front-line of homelessness, recognition can be hard to come by. The successes are often private, while failures can often be public. Now more than ever, it has become increasingly important to tell the stories of these individuals. Not because they need it, but because they deserve it.
On March 6th, the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) hosted the 7th Annual Arthur Smith Awards, which recognize staff and volunteers who exemplify excellence in providing housing with support to vulnerable people in Calgary. The recipients are nominated by colleagues or peers in the community with letters of support from partnering agencies or in some cases, directly from the people they have supported over the years.
I was lucky enough to see the whole process unfold. I was asked to sit on the CHF staff selection committee. I carefully read each application. I was moved by the words and thoughts expressed in each application, telling very personal stories of hope, compassion and commitment. The staff committee (it was hard as each was so deserving) selected the top three nominees from each category – frontline, volunteer and team. From there, the final selection was made by a committee of CHF Board members. The whole process culminated on March 6th with CHF hosting a lovely lunch event at the McDougall Centre where the awards were presented.
Front-line Employee Award:
Cheryle Sklapsky, Keys to Recovery
The Front-line Team Award:
Sunalta Lodging House Team, Alpha House Society
Harry and Irene Simmelink, Sonshine Community Services
Each recipient was introduced by the individual who nominated them. For me, a common thread throughout the speeches was how each recipient went above and beyond to help those in need. Whether it’s sitting outside the apartment of a woman in emotional pain until she comes out to talk, making a dinner for a group of men to share a meal in their new home, or holding a woman and her children staying at second-stage domestic violence shelter, each recipient was commended for looking beyond the issue, listening without prejudice and providing a glimmer of hope.
Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness speaks to the principles of ‘person-centered’ case management and housing supports, but what does that really mean? On paper, it means “building a relationship with a vulnerable person without agenda or expectation” (Rogers 1979). Yet, in practice, especially for the recipients of the 2014 Art Smith Awards, it means thinking outside the box, being creative, and doing whatever it takes to help an individual become the best they can be.
“You can tell the character of the city by how they treat their most vulnerable populations”, said one woman at the event. For me, the Annual Art Smith Awards provide an incredible opportunity to recognize the successes of people on the front-line doing this amazing work, and even more, it can inspire others to join them in the journey to end homelessness.