Signs of homelessness aren’t limited to Victoria’s downtown, and a community group in Saanich is taking the lead on helping those struggling in neighbourhoods around the Shelbourne Valley.
Members of the Mount Tolmie Community Association and local churches have noticed a rise in signs of homelessness over the past few years.
In turn, an ad-hoc neighbourhood group is looking to build a community kitchen to feed the need.
“People see it as a downtown issue, but we see in this area (Saanich), people who are clearly homeless or don’t have a permanent home,” said Rev. Lyle McKenzie of the Lutheran Church of the Cross on Cedar Hill Road. “It may be a little more hidden, but it’s evident if you stop and look around.”
Problems of poverty became more apparent after monthly meetings began between the Lutheran Church of the Cross and other nearby churches including St. Luke’s, St. Aidan’s and the Shelbourne Street Church of the Divine, along with the Mount Tolmie Community Association.
Members of the groups took an inventory of current community services and assessed future community needs. As the meetings came and went, conversations around poverty and homelessness cropped up again and again.
“The primary need we are seeing are people who have housing or temporary housing, but don’t have enough money for food,” McKenzie continued. “It is from people with small children right through to adults.”
The Lutheran Church currently runs a program coined the “parish pantry” that provides a $20 food voucher and a non-perishable goods once a month to people who drop by the church looking for help.
Many of the churches offered similar programs, so the group wondered if there was a unified project to serve the neighbourhood in the Mount Tolmie area. The group honed in on an idea of a volunteer-run kitchen that is easily accessible to the public and within walking distance.
“The idea is a place for food support (and) where people can gather,” McKenzie said. “It is not only the place to pick up food – but a place to build community. That is the direction the group is working (toward).”
McKenzie, who also serves as the Lutheran chaplain of multifaith services for the University of Victoria, has seen first hand an increase of need for food services, a need that has grown steadily over the past two or three years.
That coupled with more homelessness in the area led to the joint effort to apply for a grant from the National Lutheran church in the hopes of securing up to $100,000 over three years for the project. The potential location of the kitchen remains unclear.
Mount Tolmie Community Association president Marlene Bergstrom hopes the public comes forward with expressions of support for the project she believes is needed in the Shelbourne Valley.
“What we need to focus on is our community right here and have our own community kitchen,” Bergstrom said. “We are a close-knit community. Because we have so many churches, seniors and students. (We) need it.”
They will find out in Februray if their grant application is successful. For more information or to give support, email firstname.lastname@example.org.