Sheri Thompson fears for the lives of the homeless in Sooke.
“Winter is coming and we have a crisis centre that’s open for three hours a day from Monday to Friday and no extreme weather shelter,” Thompson said. “These people are going to be wet and cold, and I really do fear that some may not survive.”
It’s those fears that motivated Thompson and others to form the Sooke Shelter Society this summer. It’s a non-profit group dedicated to addressing the problems of homelessness in Sooke.
“We did a count in March and came up with 37 homeless people, but I can tell you that many of the homeless didn’t want to participate and that the real number is more than 100,” Thompson said.
“That count gave us the numbers we needed to form the society and seek assistance from the District of Sooke, [Capital Regional District] and other donors.”
She added the homeless have spread out in the community, often camping in secluded locations to avoid harassment, violence or eviction. They are virtually invisible to other Sooke residents.
The society’s board members and volunteers have been working to provide outdoor survival gear to the homeless, including tents, sleeping bags, tarps, and backpacks.
“Our long-term goal is to work toward a housing first strategy to ensure some transition recovery housing and then affordable housing options, but right now we have to make sure they survive.”
Society board member Dawn Latimer called the situation a crisis.
“There’s no place for these people to go, and everywhere they do go, they get kicked out,” said Latimer, noting some of the homeless are the victims of domestic violence and that life on the street can be safer than going back to an abusive environment.
“Second stage housing (for abuse victims) is desperately needed. A lot of women have no options.”
For the homeless, living on the street is full of uncertainty.
John Ede, 46, has been living on the street for more than a year.
Although he has a regular job helping as a gardener, the money he makes doesn’t come close to making an apartment possible.
Instead, Ede lives in a donated tent with a friend but was recently informed that the land where they have pitched their tent has been sold by the CRD to a private owner.
“We’re living on a ticking time bomb now. How long will it be before someone doesn’t want us here and makes us move again?” asked Ede.
Citing personal reasons for his move to Sooke, Ede speaks of a rough and abusive background, an estranged son, and a realization that he needs to get out of the situation in which he finds himself.
“I had a career in the film industry, but I guess I made some bad choices. We all make bad choices at some time, but that doesn’t make us bad people,” Ede said.
“I know these people (the homeless in Sooke) and most of them are the nicest people you could want to meet. They’d do anything for you. The problem is that there’s no affordable housing and no way for them to get off the streets.”
Ede admitted addictions and mental health issues sometimes contribute to homelessness, but those people need help and support – not being shunned by society.
“You can’t force people to get better, but I’ve sat with friends and tried to help them by pointing out that it’s their choices that are keeping them in the situation they’re in. Homeless people need love and support, not the finger from others who see them as useless. We’re homeless, not useless.”
Thompson has experienced homelessness in her own life for short periods of time but her concern for the homeless stretches back even further.
“I’ve always thought it was terrible. I was a little girl when I went to Vicotria with my mother and saw homeless people on Johnson Street. It broke my heart and I thought it was terrible back then. I still do.”
For further information on the Sooke Shelter society, please go online to sookeregionvolunteers.org/sooke-shelter.