Continuing our series of blogs written by folks in Edmonton with lived experience, meet, Nadine Chalifoux. Nadine is an independent advocate for housing, homelessness, health, Indigenous affairs, human rights, social injustice and women’s rights.
I participate in several webinars and conference calls related to poverty and homelessness, particularly those affecting urban Indigenous people. Through the Tamarack Institute, I work alongside Vibrant Communities, Communities Reducing Poverty West, and the Urban Indigenous Convener group. Through EndPovertyEdmonton (EPE), I participate in the Indigenous Circle, EPE Research & Evaluation Advisory Committee, EPE Indigenous Circle Strategic Planning, Measuring EPE Collective Impact evaluation, the Food Enterprise Exploration group and I add my voice to the City of Edmonton Transit, Human Rights based Housing and Disabilities/ Accessibility working groups. I also participate as a Board Member for Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) and I work on several committees there including: Policy & Communications, Mental Health Services Re-evaluation, Capital Region Evaluation, Homeless Memorial and Housing as a Human Right in partnership with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
When it comes down to how much of my day is in advocating mode, I suppose it started at about 3 - 4 hours, three times per week. That was nearly six years ago. The second year, I was spending seven days a week, with four of those days being on the ground working directly with people. In year three, I was working 1-2 hours daily, seven days a week just out talking to people on the streets. It's now morphed into my daily life so much that I couldn't tell you precisely how many hours. There’s been a shift to more of my work being done via phone, office and computer rather than physical visits to local agencies. I have to keep in mind my own physical abilities are low compared to six years ago, however it doesn't really slow me down.
I advocate for those unable to get the appropriate help they need to navigate the social services system including agencies. I am on the frontline in Edmonton alongside many marginalized people. It's a good thing I am familiar with the devastation, mental obscurities, addictions and cultural deprivation that comes with being poor, working poor and homeless. I myself used to be homeless and suffer from mental illness. I know the trouble it can be to get yourself through the system without giving up. In fact I fought my way through the system to only remain dependent upon Government Assistance on a very limited and not livable income. I share my struggles with those I meet and visit. I want others to not suffer the pains of the social services system and agencies that I have and still receive. There is nothing worse than trying to communicate your problems with someone who may or may not share your pain. Leading to mistrust, frustration and further depression.
I've been working in this sector ever since I was housed five years ago. I have directly helped over 90 people and indirectly, dozens more. I still go to agencies to sit and have coffee with fellow marginalized folks. I make sure they feel they are being heard and that they are able to put forth their needs. I have started focusing on my Indigenous background and how the same atrocities affect fellow urban and rural Indigenous peoples. So much needs to be done to better understand and properly recognize Indigenous culture. My goals just expand every year. I do see evidence that I am making a difference to better the lives of Edmontonians who suffer from their regular basic needs not being met. I look forward to a new year of opportunities and experiences pushing ahead on these same issues.