In a society grappling with structural marginalization, the efforts of individuals who dedicate themselves to uplifting marginalized communities are invaluable. One such individual is Bill Zheng, a second-year nursing student at the University of Calgary, who is making a significant impact through his charity and volunteer work. Zheng is the co-founder of RadiCalgary Society, a nonprofit organization that aims to serve and support those experiencing structural vulnerabilities.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
As the co-founder of RadiCalgary, I co-founded the Calgary Pop-Up Care Village (C-PUCV), C-PUCV is a festival for anyone experiencing structural vulnerabilities like homelessness, addiction, mental health concerns, language and cultural barriers, etc. C-PUCV brings together the social service, health, and the arts sector into a “one-stop shop” so guests can access services conveniently in one place. I am also leading a mobile hygiene solution that will bring showers and washrooms to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
In addition to RadiCalgary, I also co-founded RadiCare Ventures, a social enterprise that hires people who have employment barriers like mental health concerns, addiction, and poverty. We train staff to do general labourer tasks like property maintenance. RadiCare is also revolutionizing a compassionate way to respond to social disorders for inner-city businesses. I am leading the development of a business-focused outreach team that can respond to social disorder through communication, referral, and de-escalation, preventing emergency service system overload in a trauma-informed way.
What problem does it aim to solve?
Through all of my initiatives, I am attempting to preserve human dignity for people undergoing structural marginalization. Furthermore, all of my initiatives attempt to complement the existing system of care, rather than duplication of services. My initiatives aim to bring “wrap-around services”, meaning a cohesive, coordinated response that ranges from social to health services to the individuals that require them.
When did you start/join it?
I first started planning the Calgary Pop-Up Care Village (C-PUCV) in April of 2022, with the support of two nonprofit organizations in Calgary, BeTheChangeYYC and SafeLink Alberta. In June of 2023, I was able to start RadiCare Ventures as I felt that I needed a way to sustainably generate revenue to run future nonprofit operations. In July of 2023, I formally incorporated RadiCalgary as a nonprofit to hold further C-PUCVs and to develop a dedicated solution to address hygiene inaccessibility amongst people experiencing homelessness in Calgary.
What made you want to get involved?
I lost my mother in May of 2022. I have been my mother’s most fierce advocate trying to get her connected to social and health services. This experience is what propelled me to start the initiatives I am starting. I wish I had one person who could help navigate the complicated, fragmented system of care, and that’s why I wanted to become that one person for other folks who have difficulty navigating the system.
What was the situation like when you started?
When I first started doing research on homelessness in 2021, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, many services closed their in-person services, which really exacerbated the already dire housing and affordability crisis we were having.
How has it changed since?
Since 2021, we’ve seen more and more services open up. Safety and affordable housing are two big questions that every order of government is attempting to address, across North America. There is a greater sense of urgency across all key actors in the system: whether that be the government, police and law enforcement services, social services, healthcare services, or community and the general public. We have been doing a lot of “band-aid” solutions, like increasing security and law enforcement presences, but band-aids do not address root causes of homelessness and addiction, and only upstream interventions like creating affordable housing and ensuring healthy child development are effective in the long run.
What more needs to be done?
There should definitely be more focus on upstream interventions. Crisis services are great, and in a way that is the focus of a lot of my initiatives: we intervene after a crisis has occurred. However, crisis services do not prevent new crises from happening, nor do they permanently ensure that the individual obtains the support that they need. I really hope that as a society, we could focus on creating sustainable solutions to the public safety and housing crisis that we are seeing today.
While we are looking at long-term solutions, we should also look at what short-term band-aid solutions are needed the most. For example, hygiene inaccessibility seems to be a huge issue that has been left unaddressed. People experiencing unsheltered homelessness especially, are not able to access showers easily without the support of shelter spaces. This is why I am hoping to use the $50K Mazda award to start a mobile hygiene unit to address this issue.
How can our readers help?
If you are interested in learning more about my initiatives, please visit my websites! RadiCalgary runs both the Calgary Pop-Up Care Village (C-PUCV) and the mobile hygiene unit initiative. You can find RadiCalgary at radicalgary.ca. For more information on my social enterprise, please visit radicareventures.ca. Running a successful nonprofit is not easy, and as a small grassroots organization, we heavily depend on our community’s support. For example, to even start the mobile hygiene unit, we need hygiene supplies, warm clothing, and also a truck vehicle that can pull the mobile hygiene trailer!
Do you have any events coming up?
I have an indoor Calgary Pop-Up Care Village coming up in March of 2024! This time I am really trying hard to recruit all types of services including dental, vision, wound care, and podiatry services. I am also collaborating heavily with the immigrant and newcomer sector to foster a complete response. If you are a Calgary-based or a pan-Canadian service agency or someone who would like to help out with the event, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com!
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Consider donating to RadiCalgary (self-plug!). Although we are not a charity, we are a registered nonprofit organization. On a serious note though, I cannot say enough good things about SafeLink Alberta. I have been working at SafeLink for more than a year and a half now as an outreach worker, and I can say that our services for people who use substances and engage in sexual behaviours are life-saving. We have a dedicated team of social workers and outreach workers that helps people to navigate complicated social and health services.