— Pamela Roth
At 78 years old, Wilma Johannesma has seen a lot in her life.
But when she looks around the streets of Victoria and sees the large number of homeless people eking out an existence, she can’t help but feel compelled to do something to ease their daily struggles.
About five years ago, Johannesma connected with Our Place Society, meeting some of the individuals who use the services on a regular basis.
A resident at Ross Place, Johannesma put out a call to her neighbours asking those wanting to get rid of used clothing or glasses to deliver it her door instead. The response, she said, was positive.
“I thought it was easy to do since I’m surrounded by people that maybe have things they need to get rid of,” said Johannesma, who wants to keep the clothing drive going for as long as possible.
“I think they (homeless) are very nice people. They’re the same as us, but they lose their job and then they can’t pay for their accommodation and they’re on the street. It happens very easily. I feel they deserve help.”
Our Place is an inner-city community centre serving Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable people. The facility serves more than 1,200 meals per day, and also provides hot showers, free clothing, counselling, outreach services and traditional housing units.
Throughout the last year, the society has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of meals served, but has been able to expand the number of programs offered due to support from individual donors and local businesses.
“Because we rely completely on donations, having the public engaged and wanting to give to the most vulnerable out here, it really is a joy and a blessing for us. It shows that everybody is part of the community,” said Our Place spokesperson Grant McKenzie, adding more residents often lend a helping hand during the fall in preparation for winter.
Last month, a four-year-old girl wanted to do something for the hungry people, so she held a yard sale and donated the earnings to Our Place.
“Every bit counts. I think that’s the important part….It’s an expensive city to live in, but I think they (seniors) see it only takes one or two missed pay cheques or missed pension funds coming in before people can end up here.”
The society currently sees between 600 to 800 people per day, and is in most need of socks and underwear donations.
McKenzie said the summer months used to typically be quieter, but now the need for services is year round. The centre will expand its operating hours at the beginning of November as more people come in from out of the rain.
For Johannesma, helping people during their darkest times is something that makes her happy.
“People deserve a hand up,” she said. “The worst thing they (homeless) said is when we pass them by on the streets and we don’t look them in the eye. That hurts them the most. We should not look down on anybody.”