There is a crisis on the streets of Victoria

There is a crisis on our streets, and the fallout is concentrated on the boulevard in front of Our Place.

People are frightened: They are frightened of dying in alleyways and stairwells, and so they congregate in front of Our Place and next door at The Harbour (Island Health’s Supervised Consumption Site) because they know we are their best chance for survival.

Unfortunately, the public can easily misconstrue this sanctuary as the opposite of what it is, and often blame Our Place for the homeless situation in our community rather than one of the few organizations that is attempting to solve it.

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I feel empathy, not fear

A stranger asked me recently if I ever felt afraid when I walked down Pandora Avenue to my workplace, which just happens to be Our Place, an inner-city refuge for people experiencing homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental-health issues.

Naturally, my answer was “no,” but that got me to thinking of why. Why don’t I feel afraid? Certainly, there can be scary situations that happen outside Our Place. The nature of the people we serve means that we are challenged on a daily basis.

There is no sugar-coating the fact that when people are smoking or injecting illicit drugs, their behaviour can be erratic. There is also no easy fix for some of the people dealing with severe mental-health issues who are practically abandoned on our doorstep.

So why don’t I feel afraid?

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A Time For Hope

At Our Place, we do “belonging” extremely well. But as we battle against stigma, poverty, mental illness and a heart-breaking death rate associated with the fentanyl opioid crisis, I believe we need to provide more hope.

Our first step was moving over 100 people from Choices, the transitional housing shelter we operated in the former youth custody centre in View Royal, into permanent housing.

As Robert’s Story illustrates, once people are no longer in survival mode, they can focus on regaining their health, settling matters of the heart, and begin contemplating their next step.

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Raising people out of poverty

Bill recently became one of the first residents to move into My Place, a temporary transitional shelter on Yates Street that we re-opened in December.

As Bill immediately stored his belongs under his new bunk, he had two things on his mind: laundry and a hot shower.

His thankfulness and gratitude for the stabilization he has found brought many of us to tears, and we are overjoyed that we can now move him further along on his journey back to healing and wellness.

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A Pathway Out Of Poverty

When I look out of the windows from Our Place on Pandora, I see a veritable flock of large metallic cranes constructing new buildings in our downtown core. While part of me relishes the thought of more and much needed housing, another part of me wants to turn this economic boom into a positive for the most vulnerable citizens in our community.

It’s far too easy to dismiss people without jobs as being “lazy”, but that hasn’t been my experience. Instead, I see all the barriers that must be hurdled in order to secure employment in the first place. The people who I see on a daily basis at Our Place shouldn’t be lumped together as facing the same challenge. Some have been abused from birth and never stood a chance at school; others have anger issues stemming from trauma and mental health issues; some have suffered injury and/or brain damage; and others have been told all of their life that they are worthless.

We’re going to change this.

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Making A Choice For Recovery

I sat down to lunch in the Our Place dining room recently to chat with several of the people who rely on us for their daily meals. To be honest, it’s one of my favourite parts of the day as it allows me to connect directly with the men and women Our Place is there to help.

One man, in particular, caught my attention and we began to talk. He was down on his luck, using drugs to mask his pain, but glad for the bowl of homemade soup, salad and bread on offer that day. When I asked what was bothering him, he said he knew he was going to end up back in prison soon because he was starting to commit crimes to feed his drug habit. He had tried short-term treatment programs in the past, but none had worked and he didn’t know where to turn.

This is a story that I hear too often. Someone suffering on the street, dealing with his or her addiction, only to get involved in criminal activity and end up in prison.

Now, in my opinion, this is where the story should change.

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There is a drug-overdose crisis in our community

I attended a memorial service at Our Place recently for a man who I had come to know for far too brief a time. 

The outpouring of love, affection and sadness over his passing would come as a surprise only to those who didn’t know him. Because, while he was part of the family at Our Place, to the outside world he was labelled something far different.

Having lived on the streets, this imposing but gentle man wore his share of demons, the deadliest of which is addiction.

He died too young, and sadly he’s not alone.

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