Our Place may lose its breakfast

Lack of funding could end program for region’s homeless

After one year offering the city’s homeless a warm place to get breakfast, Our Place Society may have to shut its early-morning operation by March 31.

“I’m hoping the money comes before that to keep me going,” said executive director Rev. Al Tysick.

The city’s homeless are not allowed to sleep in doorways and parks past 7 a.m. but have nowhere else to go at that hour.

In January 2010, the City of Victoria provided a $90,000 grant for Our Place to open at 7 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. Neighbouring municipalities later agreed to share in Victoria’s contribution and the province kicked in $60,000.

Since then, both the city and United Way have stepped up with additional grants when funding ran out sooner than expected.

Our Place serves about 300 breakfasts, five days a week.

Victoria’s goodwill, however, has dried up.

“It was our hope that by providing seed funding that … the province would step up and fund it,” Fortin said. “It’s certainly not something that municipalities can fund social services on an ongoing basis. We don’t have the tax revenue or the responsibility.”

The province renews its operating agreement with Our Place at the end of March.

In 2008/09, the province agreed to provide $500,000 annually to fund the drop-in centre from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Safety. However, the agreement came with a “mutual understanding that additional funding for extended hours would come from other funding sources.”

Ken Kelly, of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, calls the situation very unfortunate.

The 7 a.m. opening at Our Place made a difference to the downtown community, Kelly confirmed.

“Anecdotally … yes, that’s almost an incentive for getting (the homeless) up and moving at a reasonable hour,” he said. “When the police encourage everyone to get up … there was someone to point them to.”

The only other option in town to get a free breakfast is the 9-10 Club.

Operating out of St. Andrew’s basement since 1982, the 9-10 Club serves soup, along with donated bread and sweets between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

If Our Place stops offering its breakfast program, “We would take as many as we could,” said 9-10 Club co-ordinator, and volunteer, Sheila Connelly.

These days, the 9-10 Club serves between 150 and 250 people per day. Unlike Our Place, which employs several staff to prepare for and supervise the breakfast shift, the 9-10 Club is run by a pool of 100 volunteers.

The model helps to keep costs low but not low enough.

With an annual budget of $60,000, the registered non-profit runs an annual deficit of $20,000, said Connelly. Trying to feed more people would be a strain, she admitted.

Connelly said the cash-strapped organization needs to start actively fundraising.

Our Place Society has also been searching for new revenue streams.

One idea considered was charging a small fee for breakfast. After researching clients’ incomes, however, the board rejected the idea.

“At the end of the day, we we’re not going to be feeding into what we say we’re against, and that’s holding people in poverty,” said Tysick.