It is often said that everyone has a calling, but very few are astute enough to hear it. This was not the case with Peace River native Marc Boychuk who suddenly, to the surprise of his peers, cut short his ascension to the top of his company. He realized that his twenty-five years of chasing professional accolades were misused and could not fathom wasting another second on tasks that, in his opinion, had no real impact, and did nothing to uplift his community.
Boychuk’s introspection slowly gave way to extrospection, and it was then that he could see the sadness that had always surrounded him, but was too self-centred to observe; the plight of the homeless.
Having experienced living on the streets of Vancouver, Boychuk believed he needed to know what it felt like to be homeless in a rural community in order to be an effective advocate and raise awareness. On the two coldest nights of Winter January 2018, when Peace River was ranked one of the top five coldest places on the planet, he roamed the streets and felt first-hand, the hopelessness, insecurity and the mental and physical anguish the chronic homeless repeatedly endured. He slept alone on the first night, but had the company of two men and a woman on the second. That night ended with one of his companions being detained for public intoxication and another vanished into the night never to be seen or heard from again. The only woman of the group was helped to a ‘safe place’ by Boychuk after the first sliver of light signalled the dawn of a new day.
Volunteerism and activism
So touched was Boychuk by his experience that he sought opportunities to play a hands-on role in the fight against homelessness. In Fall 2018, he worked with the Edmonton-based Alberta Rural Development Network (the ‘Network’) and the Family Community Support Services Association of Alberta (FCSSAA) to carry out, what is considered to be, the largest homeless estimation count in rural communities. He has also contributed to the development of the Network’s award-winning ‘Step-by-Step Guide to Estimating Homelessness’.
On his days off, he works with the Métis Capital Housing Corporation; giving clients helpful tips to actualize their dream of home ownership. Boychuk has also volunteered with Sagitawa Friendship Centre and the local Food Bank, and has collaborated with the Municipal Government on several initiatives for the homeless.
His most recent individual accomplishment is the organizing of the ‘100 People Who Care’ fund drive in May 2018 where three local Charities competed for the funds raised. The Charities were asked to make a presentation; highlighting how the funds would be used for the betterment of the homeless, and a ballot was cast to pick the winner. The next ‘100 People Who Care’ event is slated to take place in Spring 2020.
He is actively working with the Edmonton-based Métis Capital Housing Corporation and is hoping to implement the organization’s jointly-run, ‘Family Reunification Programme’ (FRP) in Peace River. The FRP is inspired by the ‘Healing Wheel’ and aims to encourage holistic well-being post re-housing.
Boychuk highlighted that the work to end homelessness is ‘never ending’ because rural communities lack the resources they need to support the most vulnerable. There are many Non-Government organizations that are committed to ending homelessness such as Homeward Trust and Catholic Social Services, but true success can only be achieved when Government policies are supportive. In Edmonton, statistics showed that during the period 1999 to 2008, there was a steady increase in homelessness. This upward trajectory was stymied after implementing ‘Edmonton’s Plan to End Homelessness’ in 2009. Besides having a clear policy direction to ending homelessness, bigger cities, like Edmonton, receives a larger share of provincial funding. As a result, rural communities are ill-funded and cannot effectively support the homeless population who are left with the choice of living in abject misery or migrating to larger cities to access social safety net programmes. It is therefore in the vested interest of urban dwelling Albertans to help to find a solution to rural homelessness.
In the eyes of Boychuk and many advocates working to end rural homelessness, there is too much work to be done. According to Boychuk, “The women’s shelter in my community does phenomenal work, supporting women in need, but the needs of men are being neglected. There are simply too many gaps.” Despite the hard work ahead, Boychuk refuses to relent until everyone has a right to safe, affordable housing and calls on each person to get involved.