Alina Turner felt like her life was falling apart. She was 16 years old and had arrived in Canada as a refugee. Her parents had divorced, her brother was in the criminal justice system and she was now experiencing homelessness. She knew she needed help, but she did not know where to look or whom to ask.
With the support of her partner, Travis, Alina was able to secure the help she needed to find a place to call home and turn her life around. She was able to finish high school and university, receiving a Ph.D. in anthropology. Inspired by her lived experience and desire to make a difference, she ended up working in the homelessness sector.
Alina and Travis, now married for 20 years, resolved to help Canadians who are experiencing similar struggles.
In 2018, in collaboration with the City of Medicine Hat, they launched HelpSeeker, a digital application that matches Canadians in need with essential social services and supports in their local community. For example, it allows someone at risk of homelessness to search their local area for supportive housing, just by using their phone.
“I was used to being someone who came up with ideas to solve homelessness,” Alina says. “For HelpSeeker, Travis and I decided to take it a step further and invest in a solution. We built it ourselves from our family savings.”
The application proved to be a huge success and was adopted by more than 200 municipalities across Western Canada.
HelpSeeker received funding through CMHC’s Solutions Lab. The funding helped Alina and Travis bring together innovative thinkers from across Medicine Hat’s social service system. The consultations done through the Solutions Lab allowed them to identify ways to enhance the app.
For Jaime Rogers, manager of homelessness and housing development for the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, the benefit of HelpSeeker was immense. It is helping the community build toward a more accessible and equitable social safety net. The Lab also helped the team realize that HelpSeeker had the potential to make a wider impact and help other communities across Canada.