Project Connect goes beyond haircuts and foot care for those living in poverty

Victoria’s homeless and those living in poverty are invited to an event Tuesday that offers everything from chair massages to medical attention, and a chance to learn more about available services.

Project Connect 2020 grew from a similar event that began at Our Place in 2008, offering haircuts and foot care.

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“Now we’re looking to still offer some of those essential services like the foot care and the haircuts and different things, as well as some of the nice things like getting some professional portraits taken and printed on the spot,” said Janine Theobald, inclusion and collaboration manager for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

“And also to create opportunity for a conversation rather than an info kind of fair.”

The portraits will be something special to send to family members, Theobald said.

She said the idea of the event is to have a setting where people can stay and enjoy themselves.

“We’re setting up an all-day coffee bar so people can come and take a load off, and hopefully engage, not only to learn but to share some of their experiences,” she said.

A lounge area has also been established.

A sit-down spaghetti-and-meatball dinner at 5 p.m. — with vegan options — is being offered courtesy of the United Way of Greater Victoria’s Labour Committee and the Victoria Labour Council, while the Salvation Army Community Response Unit will be outside serving hot dogs during the day.

The United Way is providing funds to stage the event, while the Downtown Service Providers Committee is serving as the host.

The committee is composed of groups providing downtown services as well as councillors, staff and police from the city of Victoria, and businesspeople.

Theobald said the last official estimate of the number of homeless in Greater Victoria was 1,525 in March 2018.

“That’s just the number of people who were reached at that time,” she said.

“We have hidden homeless, as well, children that are couch surfing.”

Theobald said the number of seniors experiencing homelessness for the first time has been increasing, and some women’s shelters reported having to turn away a higher number of people than normal for lack of beds.

Another homeless count will take place this March.

The gathering runs from noon to 7 p.m. at the Kirk Hall, 680 Courtenay St.

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