The studio lights at the portrait booth lured the showman in Richard Duff.
He drops by Our Place for free meals but didn’t expect to be in the midst of Project Connect, an annual service and information fair, when he came for lunch Tuesday.
“I’ve had my picture taken several times but never a portrait,” said Duff, 47, who posed giving a peace sign.
After six months of living in Victoria parks, out of a shopping cart and tent with his cat Ginger, he said he’s got resourcefulness down to a science.
Duff became homeless after leaving a bed-bug infested building. The former welder has lived on social assistance since being hit by a car in 1997. That left him unable to work.
“You’ve got to walk around positive. That might be all you have,” he said.
The professional portrait session was an addition to the event, which brought a spectrum of services, goods and resources to an estimated 700 of the city’s homeless and poor.
It also helped foster a great sense of community spirit, said organizer Peggy Wilmot.
“So often people want to help but don’t know what to do,” said Wilmot. “And everyone has been so kind and appreciative.”
Kelsey Saar, 21, was thrilled to get her first haircut in six months since leaving home. Stylist Sal Stephens, one of many professional hairdressers volunteering at the event, took care to frame Saar’s heart-shaped faced with a layered cut.
“She’s beautiful,” Stephens said.
René Vaillancourt, 53, went from a haircut to a free pedicure at the foot health clinic.
“It makes me feel good,” he said.
Bernice Kamano, 65, got a haircut, a portrait for her grandchildren and applied for new identification cards.
“I’ve been coming since the beginning and it’s so helpful to connect with the different agencies,” Kamano said. “I can afford to pay rent and that’s it, so I do depend on community to make ends meet.”
The free ID booth has been run by Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James since the event started in 2008.
“We saw a huge need for this. ID is the start to everything: social assistance, renting, services,” James said. Staff and volunteers helped clients apply for identification to pick up later at her office.
“It’s amazing the change you see in people when they have an identity.”
Among other booths, dozens signed up to vote, file taxes and apply for social assistance. In the parking lot, a street ministry rock band played during a free barbecue.
Ryan Harris from Recyclistas replaced countless bike brake pads and veterinarian Malcolm Macartney treated several cats and dogs in what he called “an amazing year for fleas.”
Upstairs, volunteers gave out personal care packs with items donated by church groups, schools, businesses and individuals. Students from St. Michaels University school donated backpacks stuffed with goodies, Glenlyon-Norfolk School collected more than 3,000 granola bars and Curves in Oak Bay donated 10 boxes of knitted tuques and scarves.
“One lady knit 21 tuques,” said volunteer Marilyn Brown, who put a call out for donated knitwear after running out last year. “She said, ‘I knit every day — it doesn’t matter.’ I told her it did matter, it makes a difference.”
For more information on Project Connect, go to victoriahomelessness.ca/projectconnect.