On a chilly morning in October, Rev. Allen Tysick warms himself with a mug of steamed milk in his new “office.”
As a couple stroll by his outdoor table at Dolce Vita coffee shop on Douglas Street, he jumps up from his seat to offer them a cigarette.
The small gift opens up an opportunity for a few questions: Do you have a place to live? No. Can you meet me here at 9 a.m. next Monday? Yes.
The former executive director of Our Place Society has traded his indoor office, support staff and $4-million budget for a cellphone, patio table and a coffee budget.
Two weeks ago, he officially registered the new Dandelion Society, with a mandate to provide one-on-one care to those too addicted, mentally ill or violent to be easily served by other social services agencies in Greater Victoria.
Dandelions are considered a weed, but they’re also a flower.
“Its seeds are spread to everyone,” Tysick explains, of his society’s name. “Once its roots get into you, you can’t get rid of the damn thing.”
The mandate of the society is about “having the time to talk to people, to listen to people with dignity and compassion,” explains Tysick. That means visiting clients in jail, or dropping off a sleeping bag to someone without one.
Tysick also makes hospital visits, and will buy his clients a pack of smokes or rent them a television, if it means they’ll stay put to receive care. The goal, he says, is to connect people in need with social agencies where possible, rather than attempt to duplicate existing services.
The fledgling society, however, faces an uphill battle getting established. It has no website, and as yet, no tax number for charitable donations. To date, operations have been what Tysick describes as “internally financed.”
Having no physical headquarters is a way to keep costs low, but it also comes with drawbacks. For instance, Tysick has become well acquainted with all the city’s public washrooms. Having no work computer, Tysick is cut off from email until her returns to his home in Sooke each night.
Neither does the society own a van, so for now, Tysick continues to use the Our Place van to do his early morning rounds, delivering coffee and doughnuts to about 60 people sleeping on the street.
What Tysick does have is the backing of a six-member board.
“I was waiting for Al to get retired from Our Place and back on the streets,” says board chair Ned Easton.
“Al knows it and everybody knows that it was administratively bigger than he wanted to handle and it was pulling away from the stuff that he did best, and that is actually working with people in the hours and the weather when nobody else would be there.”
The board is hands-on, helping with research and other administrative tasks.
“We’re working closely with some of the churches … to make their facilities available to us,” Easton says.
As for street outreach, however, Tysick only has the help of one other volunteer.
“Part of our mandate, and our hope, is that as Al moves on to retirement, this is not something that dies,” Easton says. To that end, the society would like to launch a training program for new street outreach volunteers.
But Tysick’s knowledge of street issues and the backstories of the individuals living on the street, built over decades working in the field, will be hard to emulate.
“We’re all aware of that,” Easton offers. “Part of our long discussions we had … were just those issues to make sure this is not a one-man show.”
Back at “the office,” Tysick is interrupted by another man, who doesn’t wait for any acknowledgement before launching into a tirade about his lawyer and his difficulty filling out some application forms.
Tysick gives him a hug.
“I can tell you’re about to explode,” Tysick soothes, adding his congratulations for successfully keeping his cool.
He sets another appointment. Monday, 11 a.m., same spot.
After the man leaves, however, Tysick confides, “I won’t take him on … He’s already well looked after.”