Students use Facebook to document Waterloo Region's homeless

A conversation with a homeless man inspired Wilfrid Laurier student Justin Chan to launch a Facebook page, Homeless in Waterloo, to document the stories of people living on the street.

Facebook project launched after friendly encounter with 'ignored' youth

"Dana," one of the people featured on the Homeless in Waterloo Facebook page. (Homeless in Waterloo Facebook page)

A conversation with a homeless man inspired Wilfrid Laurier student Justin Chan to launch a Facebook page Homeless in Waterloo. "Jeremy" was one of 11 people Chan saw daily during his five minute walk from the subway to his office, during an internship in Toronto.

Jeremy explained to Justin that he had been homeless for a year and was saving up enough money to sleep in a hotel.

"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."

"That's when it clicked. We don't really ignore people like Jeremy because we hate him or because we think he's a lesser person than us," Justin Chan told CBC News.

"We ignore him because we are so busy with our lives that we really can't find time for him. [This project] was really to bridge the gap between the community and people experiencing homelessness."

Homeless in Waterloo

Justin Chan and his project partner Konica Kochar travel through Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge with a backpack that is filled with water bottles, snacks, and canned fruit that they give to the people they meet on the street. While food and water are an important factor in their visit, what's also important is the conversation.

"As an ice-breaker, we ask people about how their day is going and give them an opportunity to chat in general," said Kochar.  

Since launching the page at the beginning of March, the pair has made its connections and contacts just by walking the streets of the region's cities.

"The people we have spoken to – they have expressed interest in getting off the street or being somewhere they're more comfortable where they can launch something else like a music career, or get back home and visit their family in Vancouver," explained Justin Chan.

"There's all sorts of little stories. But for the most part the general consensus is they want to get off the street. Some people are interested in travelling, just discovering Canada, sort of taking a back roads approach to life "

Chan and Kochar want their Homeless in Waterloo page to be an online community where anyone can can connect with people experiencing homelessness, but in the reader's own way, on their own time and at a level they're comfortable with.

Dana's story

Chan and Kochar proudly point to the Homeless in Waterloo story of a young homeless woman named Dana.

Dana was often heard on the streets of Kitchener playing guitar, busking to support herself. That lasted until one day someone broke her guitar. Chan and Kochar reached out on behalf of Dana to those who follow their page and were overwhelmed with the response they received.

"There were three guitar shops that offered their support. And then people also offered sweaters, food, sleeping bags and someone even offered a bedroom in their house," explains Kochar.

"We were able to move Dana into a new place, [and] get her guitar fixed up. And things are beginning to look up for her. Having that base to deal with other issues. Having a house and being able to use that base to connect with her community."