A Victoria-based organization, aiming to connect the homeless community to broader society through the power of storytelling, has created a mini-documentary profiling a resident of Beacon Hill Park.
Marko Curuvija, founder of The Existence Project, acknowledges the divisiveness of homelessness in Victoria, but hopes the 20-minute documentary can invoke a sense of empathy for viewers.
The documentary profiles Shae Smith, who runs a Twitter account called Humans of Beacon Hill Park and produces a podcast discussing homelessness in Victoria.
Curuvija said he also hopes the documentary can help viewers see that providing housing for all is a solution that benefits society.
“[Shae] would accept housing if it became available, and in addition, I think his insights are often excluded from policy-making decisions and housing solutions,” said Curuvija. “If people can take away three things it would be that this voice needs to be centered more in the solutions that we’re trying to create.”
|Marko Curuvija, founder of The Existence Project, hopes the short film will envoke a sense of emapthy within viewers. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
The Existence Project was founded about five years ago after Curuvija went through some “major life changes.”
His first venture, an electric bike company, had come to an end and he moved back to the Island. One day he ended up striking up a conversation with a 70-year-old man who was sleeping on a bench near Curuvija’s home. It was through this conversation that Curuvija was inspired to help connect others to those experiencing homelessness.
He set out with a recorder and began interviewing people on the streets of Victoria, until he reached a “critical juncture.”
Curuvija noticed in the editing process, he was focused on drawing people in by highlighting trauma, victimization and hardship instead of the “more nuanced existence they might have in life.”
“[I’m] very fortunate to have advisors with people who have experienced it and also work in the community and they were very adamant that your role isn’t to tell someone’s story for them, but to create a platform and create a voice for that,” he said, adding that he never published any of the early work.
Now, The Existence Project runs day-long workshops involving advocates, allies and those with lived experience who are able to tell their story with the intention of connecting with attendees.
Cory Resilient, whose real last name is being withheld for his protection, is one of the Project’s speakers with lived experience. Resilient was trapped in a cycle of homelessness for five or six years after moving to the Island from Ontario when he was 22.
|Cory Resilient was trapped in a cycle of homelessness for about six years before applying for residency at Anawim House, a sober recovery home in Victoria. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
“For me, homelessness didn’t have anything to do with addiction or alcoholism,” the now 28-year-old said. “I’ve been on my own since I was 14 years old and that’s just a way of life when you don’t have family or parents.”
Resilient met Curuvija through a workshop at Anawim House, a sober recovery home.
“I told my story and it opened up a lot of opportunity for me – a lot of people approached me, I got to be in a room with government officials … and it turned into a positive thing for me,” he said, adding that he feels like his life has a purpose and meaning now.
Resilient said throughout his experience with homelessness he felt looked down on by society.
“I don’t think people understand that the majority of homelessness starts from trauma … there was a lot of bad things that happened to me that caused me to not be able to function in society,” he said, adding that’s what he tries to get across when he speaks in the Existence Project’s workshops.
He said that when he’s able to connect with someone through sharing his story, it feels like an accomplishment.
“It feels like there’s still hope. I feel like it’s a misunderstanding, a blind spot in society that people aren’t seeing and it’s a tragedy because why would you want to look down on someone who’s hurt and contribute to that pain.”
Resilient has also created a documentary of his own, chronicling his life while he was living on the street. It has been published on his YouTube channel Cory Resilient.
To learn more about The Existence Project visit theexistenceproject.ca.