Rev. Al Tysick believes that if the leaders of B.C.’s political parties looked into the eyes of homeless people awakening on the streets of Victoria, the province would have a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy.
As politicians gear up for the May 14 election, Tysick has challenged Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix to join him on his daily 5 a.m. walk, when he distributes coffee, muffins and blankets to street people.
“We don’t believe party leaders are ignorant to issues of homelessness,” said Tysick, founder of the Dandelion Society. “But you can learn a lot by looking at the faces of the street, by speaking to a homeless person about their day, by putting a blanket on someone or by trying to connect with a mentally ill person who is wandering aimlessly.”
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Tysick wants to emphasize the harsh conditions that saw 30 members of the Victoria street community die within four months last year.
“I did funerals for two more people a couple of weeks ago. This is a crisis,” he said.
“How many more people have to die before B.C. gets a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy?”
Victoria, as the seat of government, should not be the city with the highest death toll for homeless people, Tysick said.
“If this was any other demographic, our politicians would pay attention.”
Tysick wants to see more support for those in unsafe housing and more discussion about raising and restructuring assistance rates.
“I want to see jobs created, but jobs that pay enough so that moms don’t have to go to the food bank to eat,” he said.
Dix and Clark, who were preparing for the leaders’ debate Monday, were not available to comment.
However, Victoria-Beacon Hill NDP candidate Carole James, who has previously gone out on Tysick’s early-morning rounds, said she believes that once the election is over, newly elected MLAs should either go out with Tysick or on the streets of their own communities.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen during the campaign, but I think it is a good idea,” she said.
“It’s an important invitation and it should be there for every elected politician.”
A poverty-reduction plan is part of the NDP platform, James said.
“It will have real targets and specific measurements and we will report out to the public,” said James, adding she’s a “huge supporter” of Tysick’s work.
“He’s one of the heroes of our community. It’s thankless work and he’s out there speaking to some of the most troubled and most challenged members of our community.”
A statement from Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing and Liberal candidate in Fort Langley-Aldergrove, said the B.C. Liberals will continue to support initiatives that help reduce homelessness and poverty in Victoria.
Last year, the government invested more than $22 million to support more than 870 shelter spaces, subsidized housing units and rent supplements to those who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness in the Victoria region, he said.
The Liberal government and City of Victoria partnered to build about 170 new and upgraded supportive-housing units, including Rock Bay Landing, Swift House and Camas Gardens, Coleman said.
“We’ve also provided $2.5 million towards the purchase of one of the former Traveller’s Inn motels and invested an additional $450,000 for renovations to help convert it into supportive housing,” he said.
Tysick said the morning rounds tell him who is in hospital, arrested or in crisis.
They also offer a hard look at the darker side of homelessness, he said.
“It makes you realize we’ve created some terrible conditions. Poverty becomes very real when you’ve seen its heart, its face.”