As the cold and wet weather descends on us, concerns grow for the homeless and the more vulnerable citizens of our community.
A little known fact is that Sooke does indeed have a homeless population. Joan Titus, the secretary-treasurer at the Sooke Crisis Centre, estimates that, at the most, up to half-a-dozen people are living in the bush. The causes are varied, ranging from mental illness to alcoholism. Many— though not all — are there by choice.
“We pretty well know who’s out there, and if we don’t they may be young ones who come out from town or another province. There seem to be some new ones floating around now.” But for the most part, Titus assesses that “the young ones certainly think they have to have a roof over their head.”
To address the needs of those without homes, Greater Victoria has an Extreme Weather Protocol. For the first time, this program has increased its response area to include Sooke.
According to a press release sent earlier this month, “The Sooke Baptist Church will be providing 10 mats to accommodate the remote areas of Sooke, East Sooke, Beecher Bay Reserve, Otter Point, Shirley, Jordan River and Port Renfrew. The triggers for activation of this shelter service will be made independently of the Victoria/Saanich response plan.”
The protocol is activated when the weather turns severe, and is triggered by the following criteria:
Temperatures near zero with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for people to remain dry,
sustained high winds,
temperatures at or below -2 Celsius.
Shelter occupancy and feedback from clientele may be considered.
A few years ago, Sooke’s Crisis Centre tried a similar emergency bed program, but the program was under-utilized and, because it required over-night staffing, too expensive to run.
“We did this one year,” said Titus, speaking of the 10-day trial system. “One fellow stayed for two nights, one stayed one night, and that was it.”
The program was not continued then, and the crisis centre is still more focused on maintaining their existing level of service.
“With the price of everything going up, and we’re getting more people [clients], and looking for help with hydro and rent,” said Titus. It costs more than the $100 a month they are currently receiving, and “we are very down on money right now.”
Bill Parkes, a volunteer going on three years now at the crisis centre (and a lifetime with other organizations), notes that their centre primarily offers clothing and food. Bus tickets and gas vouchers are also occasionally available.
“We have no place for people to sleep,” he said.
The Sooke Crisis Centre is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There’s a pot of coffee on, and volunteers are always welcome.
Another readily available service for both the homeless and the vulnerable is offered through the Sooke Family Resource Society (SFRS). Executive director Nicky Logins re-iterates the recent findings reported by the CBC (“800,000 Canadians still relying on food banks”), in finding that low income and increased costs of living combine to make living less affordable.
SFRS sees the need increasing over time.
“As winter approaches we see more families in need of basic food and personal care items, as their food money is spent on home heating. We see more people who are struggling to manage the daily stresses of providing for the families, leading to family breakdown,” said Logins. “We see more youth and young adults whose parents do not have capacity to care for them, struggling to maintain a household.”
The SFRS Clothing Exchange, sometimes referred to as “the free store” provides clothing and footwear for people of all ages. They also provide “comfort bags” for the truly homeless, and includes personal hygiene basics like toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, toilet paper and socks.
The Clothing Exchange is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Sooke additionally has other services to support the more vulnerable citizens of our community
In addition to the 10 mats, the Baptist Church in Sooke (7110 West Coast Rd.) offers a Big House Breakfast on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on the second and third Sunday of every month, they have a soup and sandwich dinner. They can be reached at (250) 642-3424 for further details.
The Holy Trinity Church (1952 Murray Rd.) offers a free lunch on Fridays (Vital Vitals), starting at 11:30 a.m. and running until 1 p.m. According to their website (holytrinitysookebc.org), their free lunch is “(o)pen to everyone, single parents with tots, adults, seniors and teens. It’s a time to come and meet your neighbours and get a good meal.” They can be reached at (250) 642-3172 for further details.
The Knox Presbyterian Church advertises a “Food for the Soul” monthly program. Those interested in the dates and details can call them at 250-642-4124.
And while the Food Bank is best suited for those with homes, Ingrid Johnston of Sooke’s Food Bank noted, “Anyone who comes to the door gets food — no one is turned away.”
There is a requirement to produce proof-of-residency to demonstrate that you are a local citizen, and it can be a utility bill, a rent receipt, or some other piece of official mail. Those who show up without proof are given food, and a reminder to bring in proof of residency at their next visit.