Editor’s note: Ed is an alias, used to protect the identity of the man in this story.
As they stand side by side next to the garden on Woodwynn Farms, the contrast in appearance between Richard Leblanc and Ed is slim.
Besides several inches separating their heights, both appear weathered. Ed, though, is clean and clean-shaven. His back is straighter and his face glows with more colour than Leblanc’s.
It may seem ironic, then, that Leblanc is executive director of the farm and until recently, led a comfortable life. Today, though, he sports longish salt-and-pepper facial hair, wears a dirty sweatshirt and the dark circles under his eyes give away his exhaustion.
This was day 37 of Journey to the Edges 2012, where Leblanc has traded places with Ed, who now sleeps in a comfortable bed in the farmhouse, while Leblanc shivers in Ed’s old white van, parked anywhere suitable in Greater Victoria.
“Physically, I’m exhausted from being cold all the time,” Leblanc says. In the mornings, his muscles are sore and fatigued from a full day of shivering – like he’s done a hard workout at a gym. In the mornings, he’s had to scrape frost off the inside of the van’s windows.
Leblanc lives off $320 a month, about $10 a day.
Things aren’t easy for Ed, but they’re easier. He receives $585 a month in social assistance. He’s applying for disability as well, which would grant him an extra $300 a month. Ed has poor hearing, but the 23-page paperwork is laborious and delays could mean he may not get word back about the increase for three to six months, he says.
Meanwhile, he continues to make calls to potential employers – Ed was a carpenter until he broke his foot in a work-related accident – to no avail. At 56, it’s hard to find work.
Journey to the Edges will continue until Woodwynn Farms achieves three goals: 2,012 people write letters to Central Saanich council in support of Woodwynn, 2,012 people donate to Woodwynn’s 99 cents a day campaign and a man nicknamed Todd, who walked off the farm and back onto the streets, is found.
That could take a while.
More than a month into the campaign, Leblanc says about 15 per cent of the first two goals has been achieved. He hopes more people will donate or write letters of support. Todd continues to elude those searching for him.
Ed says the campaign is working.
“There’s more people aware. The people who know me are more aware. It is working.”
Leblanc agrees. The challenge lies in compelling people to help him realize those goals.
“Getting people to take action – that’s the difficult part,” Leblanc says.
Ed adds, “People know all about it, but they’re not doing anything about it. We have to get that bit of motivation and that’s tough.”
Leblanc spent a few hours at the farm, then returned to the van to spend another icy night in the measly shelter of Ed’s van.
• Write a letter supporting Woodwynn Farms to Central Saanich council:
The District of Central Saanich
1903 Mount Newton X Rd.
Saanichton, BC V8M 2A9
• Donate to Woodwynn’s 99 cents a day campaign at woodwynnfarms.org
“He’s not a downtown core guy,” Woodwynn Farms executive director says of Todd (not the man’s real name), whom he hopes to find as part of the Journey to the Edges 2012 campaign.
He’s likely to frequent wooded areas outside developed areas, from Sidney to Langford.
Todd, 31, was once a resident of Woodwynn Farms, but left when he convinced himself he wasn’t wanted – a view not shared by the other residents of the farm.
“He’s a fellow we really liked at the farm here,” Leblanc says. “He was a really hard worker. He conned himself and anybody else into thinking he was ready to leave. He was back into the drug scene within 24 hours.”