It took five hours for Richard Leblanc to stop shaking after his first night spent in a van.
Since then, he’s learned some tricks to keep warm, the most important being to to acquire a foamy to buffer him from the cold of his bed – really a wooden platform balanced on plastic storage crates.
“It’s a huge learning curve … The pressing questions are where do I sleep tonight and how do I feed myself on this budget (the equivalent of a social assistance cheque)?” said the executive director Woodwynn Farms and the Creating Homefulness Society.
On Feb. 14, Leblanc embarked on what he calls “Journey to the Edges” and what his critics call a “publicity stunt” to promote his proposal to convert a farm in Central Saanich into a therapeutic community for Victoria’s homeless.
Publicity is certainly one of Leblanc’s goals. His decision to live out of his van on $320 per month has won him plenty of media attention.
His question now is how to keep his message in the media, as his cold days turn into weeks and possibly months.
More than just a campaign, however, Leblanc’s journey has another purpose. It’s to understand the role that housing, or lack thereof, shapes a person mentally and physically.
It’s too early for any conclusions. But already Leblanc says he’s battling constant fatigue.
The van is essential a tin can that conducts the cold and transmits all noise from the street, he said. “You hear every footstep, you hear every vehicle going by.”
The other challenges he faces are more logistical.
Maintaining personal hygiene and privacy has proved impossible in the city’s public washrooms.
“That sponge bath is all of sudden on public display and the dad with his two sons walk in and the kids look at you kind of funny.”
As Leblanc learns the ropes, a man named Ed is experiencing the opposite transition.
The homeless man from Central Saanich is trading places with Richard for the duration of the project. Ed has loaned out his van in exchange for a bedroom and three meals a day on Woodwynn Farm.
“I’m being coached by Ed,” said Leblanc. “He’s advised don’t park in the same place two nights in row.”
Ed has also advised never to ask for something by never turn anything down.
“I think it’s a personal pride issue that might have contributed to his struggles,” said Leblanc.
Journey to the Edges asks people to:
• write letters of support for Woodwynn Farms’ programs
• donate to Woodwynn Farms
• find a man named Todd, who left the farm recently and hasn’t returned.