Victoria’s homeless and vulnerable will have more access to meals, shelter, programs and services as Our Place on Pandora Avenue nearly doubles its hours next month.
“Every hour we’re open helps the community,” said executive director Don Evans. “There will be more programming and resources for the people who come here. But it will also take the pressure off police and local hospitals.”
Beginning Oct. 1, Our Place will be open 92 hours a week, up from 55.
The drop-in centre will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Our Place is a drop-in and resource centre for the city’s homeless and poor. This year, it will serve more than 420,000 meals (a 30 per cent increase from last year), provide more than 10,000 showers, hundreds of employment, medical and housing referrals, and help hundreds with no fixed address receive mail. The society, a registered charity, operates on about $4 million annually.
Government grants will help but it’s largely donations from the community that are making the extended hours possible, Evans said. About 80 per cent of donations come in during the months leading up to Christmas, he said. “The community has been responding really well to our calls.”
The extended hours will mean an increased need for volunteers. The centre already has about 400 volunteers who do everything from reception and helping during meal times to stocking and event planning.
“The later hours and weekend hours might give more opportunities to volunteer for people who work in the day,” Evans said. “Extending our hours also gives us more opportunities to do programming, to help improve the circumstances of people’s lives. It’s not just about giving people a warm place to be.”
New offerings include a medical room in the drop-in area, where doctors, nurses and optometrists can treat people and do testing.
“This [Our Place] is home for hundreds of people who might not feel comfortable or might have anxiety about visiting a hospital. So this is a way to help them where they are at,” said Evans.
There’s a new pilot program to help people in jail who are about to be released into the community. “We’re seeing a lot of people cycling through homelessness and jail. One warden told me he believes 60 per cent of the people in his jail are homeless,” said Evans. “In there, they have time to think and many want to make changes. But when they get out they don’t have housing. They might come to us but we only have a few hours or days to help. It’s impossible.”
Evans said connecting with those in jail on a housing and work plan before they get out will, hopefully, break the cycle.
One of the most exciting initiatives at Our Place is a focus on aboriginal clientele, Evans said.
“About 25 per cent of people that come here are aboriginal. That’s 200 a day. But we’re not able to meet their diverse cultural needs,” said Evans. This is why Our Place has hired two aboriginal housing advocates and is in the process of hiring an elder to be a liaison with First Nations communities. The positions are funded in part by the United Church.
“What Our Place is doing treats individuals with respect, recognizing no matter where you are or who you are there a basics everyone deserves,” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “This is an opportunity for more people to become aware of what they’re doing and help.”