A person sleeps at vacant commercial property in downtown Victoria. In 2018, Jay W. struggled with homelessness but found the abundant resources to be instrumental in getting him back to his feet. (Black Press file photo)

‘Best in the country’: Formerly homeless man praises Victoria’s outreach services

Jay W. was living on the streets of downtown Victoria in 2018

A former Victoria resident is praising the City’s outreach services for helping him come through homelessness.

Last year Jay W. was living on the streets of downtown Victoria due to what he calls “a combination of poor life choices, losing a job and a lifelong alcohol problem that plagued me my entire adult life.”

ALSO READ: Point in Time count finds homelessness growing in Victoria

For years, Jay struggled through a cycle of drinking and gambling, something he attributed to trauma induced by his mother’s early death and his brother’s suicide.

“I went through this wave – I’d just go up and down,” Jay said. “I’d get better, get a job, start drinking, start going to casinos and lose it all.”

Jay had seen this cycle for years, experiencing homelessness across Canada including in Montreal, Toronto, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna and Vancouver.

He managed to save up several thousand dollars at a time, and eventually used these funds to get himself over to Europe. What he thought would be a fun trip ended up being his rock bottom.

He gambled and drank his money away and couldn’t get home, so he sought out help from a Canadian embassy in Paris. Jay thought that in emergencies the embassy would purchase a flight, but was told by agents that it wasn’t free, but rather a loan to be repaid in 30 days.

ALSO READ: One-third of Victoria’s homeless population identifies as Indigenous

“They grill you hard, it’s not fun,” Jay said. “So I called my dad. I hadn’t talked to him in two years and I balled my eyes out.”

His father agreed to buy him a plane ticket.

“When I was on the trip home I had three plane rides. I had a lot of time to think and when I landed I said ‘OK enough is enough, I can’t deal with this sh*t anymore.’”

When he got to Victoria he accessed the Greater Victoria Street Survival Guide, put out by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and was overwhelmed by how many resources were available to people struggling with homelessness.

“I’d never seen this anywhere,” he said. “If I’d had that list before … I mean it was everything you needed; haircuts, dentists. I got my teeth cleaned for the first time in five years.”

Soon Jay developed a schedule.

“I could go to St. Andrew’s to charge my phone and eat breakfast, then go to Anawim House to have a shower and do my laundry,” he said. “I can’t speak enough of Our Place … they have everything you need. You need socks, they give you socks … the services here are, in my opinion, the best in the country.”

He began picking up jobs with WorkBC and taking courses to help him determine his personality and what would work best for him.

ALSO READ: Vet services for Victoria’s pets of the homeless cancelled for first time in a decade

He sought out some counselling and quit drinking and gambling altogether.

“When you have no further down to go, and you’ve been there five or six times before you’ve gotta remember, ‘Nothing changes if nothing changes,’” he said.

Now, he says, he’s in a different headspace and is ready to move forward for himself, and reconnect with other people in his life.

Jay has spent some time working, saving up money and travelling, and is planning to come to Victoria to purchase a van and plan a trip up to Alaska. He dreams of starting a website to advise people how to travel on a shoestring, and practise his writing and photography to share his travels.

In reflection, he said that while ultimately changes in life come down to a person’s own decisions, any help along the way makes a huge difference.

“You’re never truly doing anything alone,” he said.

Jay’s last name has been withheld to protect his identity as he moves forward.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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