Sunday, October 12, 2008

Donations most welcome for Oct. 16 event for street community
Oct. 3, 2008

Winter approaches, and my friends on the street are still mostly out in the cold. Our region is trying much harder than it was a year ago to do something about homelessness, but little has changed in the short term for the majority of people living out there.
The good news: Our community now knows what needs to be done, and has the right people in place to do it. As one of the volunteers who sits on the co-ordinating committee of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness - the group that grew out of last year’s Mayor’s Task Force - I can assure you that some of the best-connected people with the biggest hearts are getting together regularly to try to work this crisis out.
But all that effort doesn’t mean much in the here and now to the 1,200 or so people heading into another long, wet winter. For them, it’s bundle up and wait, because another year has come and gone and they’re still stuck out there.
I’ve written a lot about homelessness this past year, and heard from many readers who wanted to help. OK, here’s an opportunity. I’m organizing an event for the street community Oct. 16 on behalf of the coalition, and we’d like your help in making it a great day for people.
We’re calling the day Project Connect. Partly it’s about drawing in people from the street community to share their frustrations and ideas for change with coalition members, and partly it’s about just putting on a really nice service day for a group of folks who don’t get many breaks. In bigger cities like San Francisco, similar “connect” events are held as often as every other month.
This is the coalition’s first such event, and it’s looking like we’ll have at least a couple dozen different services available to people that day. They run the gamut: haircuts, acupuncture, dental care, help with ID and income assistance, free pet food, outreach nursing, dog licences, job information. We’ll have a whole lot of good food happening as well, and hope to be handing out “survival pack” of socks, gloves and other essentials to everyone who participates.
It’s not even close to a solution for homelessness, of course. A pair of dry socks provides little more than a few hours of reduced discomfort on a rainy fall night.
But here we are on the edge of another winter, and socks are better than nothing. Until we figure out how to give people homes, we’ll have to settle for giving them a heck of a day, including a bag of stuff to take away that might at least knock the edge off their misery for a little while.
Rev. Al Tysick has told me to brace for as many as 500 people at Project Connect. The coalition would like every one of them to leave feeling listened to, well-fed, hooked up to services, and perhaps just the smallest bit better prepared to face down another hard winter.
We’ve got some money for the event, thanks to the support of partners like the United Way. We need it to cover our food and venue costs that day.
But putting together 500 survival packs is simply too big an order for our small budget. So I’m asking readers to consider sharing the load by buying some of the items needed for those packs.
What are we looking for? Things to meet people’s immediate needs: new socks, gloves and scarves; rain ponchos, grooming and personal hygiene products (tampons!); cosmetics; hand sanitizer; treats such as candy and chocolate.
We’re asking for new items only, because new would be a lovely surprise for a group of people who get by exclusively on castoffs. If you’re willing to buy items for donation, please contact Lynn Driver at the coalition at (or 370-1512) for dropoff details. I’m hoping you can help but am acutely aware of the many fine charities out there that also need you, so please consider this request as an “add on” rather than a replacement for any of your regular causes.
We also need volunteers, not just to share in the work of that day but to make the kind of person-to-person connections that close the gap between “us” and “them.” If you’ve got time to give on Oct. 16 or in the days leading up to the event, send me an e-mail and I’ll happily sign you up.
Sure, it’s a band-aid solution. But while we wait for something more meaningful, it will have to do.

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