Today we wanted to tell you about the efforts of local charity, Streethope Victoria. We learnt about Streethope through #T3KRealty Agent, Anthony Wick, who has been a dedicated volunteer at Streethope for 4 years. Anthony chatted with T3K’s Communications Coordinator about this excellent organisation.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, a volunteer drives an RV loaded with food to a side street near Pandora Ave & Vancouver St, in downtown Victoria. Barbara, who has been volunteering with Streethope for well over a decade, has already made three or four different kinds of homemade soup. A sandwich making station is along with hot chocolate, sweet snacks, and something fresh depending on the day; Tuesday is usually bananas.
The RV parks, sets up the canopy if it’s raining, turns on the furnace if it’s cold, and welcomes Streethope’s guests. There are 12 seats inside and many more sit outside. On average, 150 people come to Streethope each night (although it can be over 200!). The guests range in age from perhaps 15 through to 80 years old; most are in their 20s and 30s.
Over the years, the guests and volunteers have formed a community: they socialize, it’s a place to come and be accepted, and cared for. Everyone knows everyone, and 70% regularly come back. A guest may mention
“thank god you are here: I would be waiting for 4 days with nothing to eat if not for you.”
Each guest typically receives a bowl of soup, 2 sandwiches, their hot drink, a couple cookies, one twizzler, and something fresh. Streethope may also have other supplies available, such as outerwear, socks, tarps, blankets, and toiletries. If someone asks for a bible, those are available too – but no religion is pushed on anyone.
The purpose is to feed people. Guests get to ask for which sandwiches they want – and volunteers make it for them. Options are typically peanut butter & jam, hummus, nutella, and cheese whiz; on Thursdays fresh cheese is an option.
Everyone sits and talks to each other – and with the volunteers. The chatter includes how the day is going and what is going on; most stories are “up”, some are bad — like their bike was stolen, or the streets are getting to them. Many move from Our Place to Rock Bay to somewhere else. Some have residencies, some have homes but are living marginally, month to month. Many of those who live downtown on Victoria’s streets come to Streethope.
Norm, the resident poet, writes and recites about life, love, and spirituality. Some guests need to really talk to somebody who will listen; the volunteers have learnt to truly stop and hear them. As Anthony put it, “most of us are thinking about what we are doing tomorrow, what we are doing next. It’s really important for us to really be there for them and really listen.” Guests open up once they get to know and trust a volunteer; it may take 6 months, but then they will ask why you were absent!
The volunteers do a prayer at the beginning of the night; whichever guests are there get to hear it. Sometimes a guest does the prayer for the volunteers. “Sometimes we pray for someone. Many don’t believe, but some do. We don’t push anything on anybody. If they want to talk: awesome. But if not, we don’t push it.”
Usually there are 4 to 5 volunteers each night; having only 3 is tight and 6 is the maximum. Anthony joined Streethope 4 years ago to help Erick Hinton with driving the RV; he learnt the ropes from Tim & Michelle, who have been part of Streethope for 9 years.
At every holiday, guests also receive their much loved goodie bag of candy or cookies. If the goodie bags run out, guests who didn’t receive one will complain. Some guests are demanding, and expect to be served – and are not exactly nice about it. Anthony explains, “but you just have to treat them with respect and ignore the way they are – because they have hard lives.” Some guests are addicted to meth, some come in covered with sores; perhaps 25% are involved in drugs. Many don’t do drugs; Streethope doesn’t discriminate. The rules are simple, at Streethope: no swearing, no drugs inside, and treat everyone with respect.
In 4 years, Anthony has seen 2 fights; he recognizes he’s interacting with a group of people used to being on the street and dealing with their problems in their own way. Volunteers don’t have weapons and don’t expect any problems. 99% of the guests are polite and grateful, and they know if trouble repeatedly happens at Streethope, Streethope will simply go away.
Guests come for the free food, the good conversation, and to get out of the cold. Our Place closes at a certain time, many people then come to Streethope. Guests often help unloading the RV when it arrives – contributing can help them feel good, too. The RV has to be gone by 9:15pm and the guests leave for “home”. Volunteers ensure the empties get dropped off, and the RV returns to St Peter’s Anglican Church, on Quadra, to wait for the next Tuesday or Thursday.
How can someone contribute to Streethope Victoria?
They can donate certain clothes (socks, rainproof and/or warm outerwear are good), blankets, tarps. Small toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, menstrual pads, shavers) are beneficial. To keep it simple: donate a tarp, those are really needed.
Donating food isn’t great, as there are specific things needed; volunteers buy everything from the Wholesale Club.
They can donate money, money is best.
Streethope is also looking for a volunteer to share the RV driving on Tuesdays.
An application for Rotary is in progress. Last year, the Anglican Diocese donated $10,000, which helped a lot. Private donations of $500-1,000 help so much. Some people who are just walking by and witness Streethope hand over cash.
There is no set storage location; various volunteer’s homes house select items. Another volunteer, Rob, coordinates fixing the RV. And another is responsible for purchasing all the food and supplies.
In the past, Shoebox Gift Boxes were prevalent. A particular church in Courtenay-Comox would donate 15-20 boxes each December, all filled with the same things – and everybody loved getting them! But the person behind that initiative has moved on to other things. To revive this lovely initiative and pack a set of Shoebox Gift Boxes for Streethope’s guests, read what’s involved here.
The history of Streethope Victoria:
Streethope began in 1986, and has taken the form of it’s current RV since 2010. It was founded by Rick, and taken over by parishioner Erick Hinton. Sadly, Erick developed tongue cancer and passed away within a year. Streethope Victoria operates under the umbrella of Threshold Ministries, a national organisation with a New Brunswick headquarters.
To close out our interview, I asked Anthony WHY he volunteers for Streethope (and other organisations).
“I’m very much a person who likes to give back, make a difference out there. It’s the same for me in business: I don’t hardly care about the money; I’m most happy when a client moves into their new house and I visit them a month later and they are just thrilled with their new home. I have a big heart and I like to express it; I do that in helping others.
If I won the $50,000,000 lottery, I’d put five in the bank and then travel to give away the rest.”
Interview by Vanessa B Baylen