The vibe at Our Place was festive on Tuesday, as hundreds of Victoria’s poor and homeless dropped by to pick up care packages, have their hair cut and get help with taxes.
Stations set up at the seventh annual Project Connect offered crucial information and services in a one-stop-shop style.
Dozens of local agencies, including housing and poverty advocates and representatives of health services and government agencies, were set up at the event. Services on offer included bicycle repair, veterinarian care, foot care by nurses, haircuts and tax and ID-replacement help.
“I came to see people I don’t see very often, who work at the different agencies,” said Teresa Tutube, 49.
Tutube, who lives in Cool Aid Society’s Queens Manor building — a former Traveller’s Inn — on Douglas Street, said she needs help with housing. “I have addictions and I don’t belong in a place where all that is going on. I need a nice quiet place, where people aren’t banging on my door for rolling papers.”
One part of Project Connect she couldn’t resist was the portrait studio run by photographer Pamela Bethel. “I came last year and had my photo taken. I had to do it again. She’s really good.”
In the chapel, volunteers put together packages of donated toiletries, socks and scarves for a long line of clients.
“This year hit a record for donations,” said Kelsi Stiles from the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which organized the event. Community groups, schools, businesses and individuals packed the garage at Anawim House with items last week. “Students from St. Mike’s [St. Michaels University School] put together 40 full backpacks and we must have thousands of pairs of socks, which is awesome,” Stiles said.
The essentials came in handy for Tyler B., who didn’t want his last name used. He arrived in Victoria a few days ago after hitchhiking across the country from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., only to have his wallet stolen while camping overnight in Beacon Hill Park.
“It has not been the greatest experience,” said the 20-year-old, who wanted to see Western Canada with his girlfriend.
The two are now panhandling for travelling money to hitch home.
The event drew a number of regulars to the community drop-in centre, including Carla Rempel, who comes to Our Place for coffee at 7 every morning.
“I meet with people and visit. It’s a real community,” said Rempel, 53, who has lupus and lives on a fixed income. “It’s also a way to eat and get by.”
George Williams, 46, came for new ID. “I haven’t had ID since 2000, so I figure it’s time,” said the artist originally from Ahousaht, who painted the wolves on the pillars of the upstairs foyer of Our Place. The carvings he sells on downtown streets help supplement his disability income, but as a genetic disorder impairs his vision, he has been forced to adjust.
“I’m teaching myself new programs on the computer and I use my hands more,” said Williams.
Hands were the connection point for reflexologist Thelma Fayle and the dozen or so people who came to see her for a massage.
“There’s something special and soothing about having your hands held,” said Fayle, who has volunteered her services at Project Connect since it started.
Throughout the day, she met clients who wanted a hand massage in silence and others who told compelling stories.
“One fellow told me a fascinating fairy tale and another told me what it was like to be a carpenter,” Fayle said. “But what really got me was a man with hand crutches, who said he had to pay $900 for them. He could barely afford to live as is. This was upsetting.”
As a volunteer, Fayle said she is heartened by the community response. In addition to the donations, the event drew more than 100 volunteers.
“I’m very proud to live in a community that has a place like this and supports a place like this,” Fayle said.