Since 2010, REALTOR® Meghan Laing (pictured above) has organized “Halifax Connects,” an annual event that brings together a wide range of volunteers and organizations to offer essential services to those that often have to go without – people who are homeless or living in poverty.
The annual event was modeled after “Project Homeless Connects” (PHC), which began in San Francisco in 2004 when a group of homeless advocates rented a local convention hall, persuaded nearly every social service provider in their city to set up a table, and opened what amounted to be a trade show for the city’s homeless. Today, PHC is run in over 200 cities in the U.S. as well as Calgary and Regina.
“I was sitting on the Board of United Way at the time I decided to start Halifax Connects,” explains Meghan. “After visiting so many local agencies I was stunned at just how many people were either homeless, at risk of homelessness, living in unsuitable conditions, or at risk of losing their home throughout HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality). I just couldn’t walk by people suffering anymore without doing something, and the more I learned about the issues of homelessness in HRM, the more passionate I became about making a difference.”
With the help of over 200 community volunteers, this year’s event – held on Sunday, November 4, 2012 – offered over 600 attendees a hot lunch, haircuts, flu shots, clothing, to name just a few services. They were also provided with access to helpful information about accessing assistance with housing, employment, dentistry, legal aid, education, food, and mental health needs. All this was offered on site and free of charge.
“Ultimately what I have learned these past few years working with Halifax Connects is that our stories are as varied as our circumstances, and each person I have connected with either in a shelter, in supportive housing, or on the street has a gracious heart that beats just like mine and yours,” explains Meghan. “I have also learned through their circumstances that we are all vulnerable. This initiative is breaking the myth that people do not seek assistance and services and would simply prefer to be on the street. When people are approached with compassion and presented with available and appropriate resources, they are eager to create change.”
In addition to her work with Halifax Connects, Meghan created and chaired Fight for Change in 2011 – a fundraiser for homelessness, which raised $87,000 for Shelter Nova Scotia, of which she is a board member. She is also a Steering Committee Member of the Nova Scotia Housing and Homelessness Network.