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What would you do with $5,000? Our Place users thankful for gift

For those living on the street, $5,000 could cover low-income housing for almost a year, provide a stockpile of groceries for a family or pay for a course that might lead to a job.
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Our Place client Ken Prowse said he would use a $5,000 windfall to buy paint and pencils for his art.

For those living on the street, $5,000 could cover low-income housing for almost a year, provide a stockpile of groceries for a family or pay for a course that might lead to a job.

Tammy Stanley, 44, said she’d go back to school to take a creative writing course.

Ken Prowse, 54, would buy paint and pencils for his art.

Members of the street community and clients of Our Place were reacting to the news that a Langford homeless man donated the $5,000 raised for him to reward his generosity after he turned in $2,500 cash he found in a Langford parking lot in June. When West Shore RCMP found the man to tell him about the donated funds, he said he wanted the money to help other homeless people in Greater Victoria.

The cheque was presented to Our Place on Tuesday, along with a matching $5,000 donation from Victoria philanthropist Andrew Beckerman, who was touched by the story.

“I’m in awe, I’m just amazed at what he did,” Stanley said. “He’s not greedy, he’s thoughtful and I just want to thank him.”

“It’s uplifting,” said Gordon Hawkins, a 54-year-old with schizophrenia who has used Our Place on and off for 20 years. Hawkins said the man is setting an example that people don’t need money and possessions to be satisfied.

“I don’t think it’s always a bad thing to be on the street,” said Hawkins, who now volunteers at Our Place providing acupressure. “We talk about housing the homeless, but there are people who are quite content to be there. People don’t think of people on the street as being valuable … but the lesson here is you don’t need all this stuff to be happy.”

A Go Fund me campaign set up by Mike Kelly of Victoria Buzz raised more than $5,000. Kelly has set aside $1,000 in a safety deposit box in case the man, who is in his 60s, needs to access emergency cash.

Kelly said he talked to the man’s sister who lives out of province and she’s not surprised at all by his sense of giving and humility. The man does not want to be identified and has turned down media interviews from across the world after the story gained international attention.

The man sleeps in the forest and makes money by collecting cans. His sister told Kelly the man found himself on the streets in 2006 after a few close family members died.

“She wasn’t surprised. She said [generosity] runs through her family. What her brother did is exactly what the family would have loved for him to do,” Kelly said.

Grant McKenzie, spokesman for Our Place, said some of the money will be used for the centre’s food service, which serves 2,000 meals a day. It will also allow the drop-in centre to set up a new jobs program, which will help clients get the training and appropriate clothing needed to seek employment.

Beckerman, who volunteers at AIDS Vancouver Island, which serves many of the clients who use Our Place, said he’d like to see other businesses match the man’s donation.

“I think we should all applaud this kind of community leadership,” he said. “This person did this totally anonymously. It’s huge, it’s absolutely huge. If we were giving away keys to the city this month, he deserves a key to the city.”

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