By Pamela Roth
Ken Prowse clearly remembers the way some people would look at him when he was living in a tent in Fernwood’s Kings Park.
“It’s like you’re in a zoo and you’re the animal,” said the 54-year-old, who wound up on the streets in August 2013 after he was evicted from his apartment and had no place to go.
“People walk by and they are throwing stuff at you. It’s a very negative outlook on people. It doesn’t mean we’re not human.”
Living on the street wasn’t easy for Prowse. Struggling with drug addiction, many nights were spent making sure he didn’t get robbed or stabbed.
Since many shelters in Victoria were full, Prowse eventually wound up living in a tent in Kings Park, a small green space in the 100 block of Caledonia Avenue near Cook Street, along with a dozen or so other homeless people. A constant victim of theft, at times Prowse didn’t even have a blanket.
“It was hard out there. It’s a whole different life,” he said.
Averaging nine tents a night, the homeless living in Kings Park have drawn complaints from local residents, but church outreach worker and area resident Devin Landis decided to take action.
With a local reverend, Landis began participating in early morning runs, handing out coffee and donuts to give the homeless a good start to the day and address any of their needs. It didn’t take long before a friendship blossomed with Prowse, and Landis was able to help him get in touch with a landlord and find a place to live.
“To get to know them was sure a treat. The friendship with Ken – I didn’t expect that,” said Landis. “A lot of progress was made in Ken’s story so it was exciting to see how just a little neighbour could make an impact.”
Prowse still struggles with his drug addiction, but feels fortunate to have a roof over his head again. In order to say thanks to the neighbours that live around the park, he and a few other campers organized a barbecue on Saturday with hopes of breaking down some walls.
Landis said the gesture humanizes the tough issue the neighbourhood is facing while giving residents the opportunity to get to know the campers of Kings Park.
“It seems to be an ongoing story of just the campers in the park and the upset neighbours, and all for legitimate reasons. It’s understandable how it can be inconvenient to live beside it, but at the same time there’s not enough shelters,” said Landis.
“To find affordable housing is just so hard in Victoria. It’s a community problem. I think that people just see the campers as take take take. It’s important for the community to see that the people who are camping in the park sure have big hearts and they do want to give back to the community.”