It’s Tuesday night in Victoria, and a motorhome parks on Pandora Street, where the sidewalks are still icy from February snows. A volunteer jumps out to festoon a string of lights around the vehicle door. Almost immediately, people find their way in off the chilly, dark street and sit down on the bench seats. Volunteers greet the regulars by name and offer them a cup of hot chocolate or soup. This is Street Hope in action, an Anglican outreach project that feeds people’s spirits as well as their stomachs.
For two hours, people stream in and out, enjoying quiet conversation, and something to eat. Ryan asks for a new toque – his other one was stolen – and receives a black one from the bin of donated clothing and hygiene items.
Van has been homeless for three years, DJ for 14 months since his landlord/boss raised his rent. often sleeping on the sidewalk when he is tired of protecting his belongings from other shelter users. People admit the food is the initial attraction, but they all use words like “respectful,” “calm,” and “unconditional love” to describe why they keep coming back. Neat and eloquent, Nina is frustrated by her inability to settle into a job and a home. “I used to think ‘oh those poor people’ and tended to stereotype them like ‘that lazy bum,’” said Nina, a regular visitor to Street Hope who came from Winnipeg to help her daughter get off drugs. Unaware that Victoria’s rental housing situation was dire, Nina used her savings to get here and then found herself sleeping in a tent in Beacon Hill Park and collecting bottles for income. “Being in a situation where you are surrounded by a lot of negativity when you are homeless it's easy to forget nice people and good things in life,” said Nina. “Street Hope has me looking forward to something for the first time in a long time. It reminds me of my old life. It encourages me to get back on track and make goals. It restores my hope.”
Street Hope operates two evenings a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and is run entirely by volunteers. It is funded by donations from churches and in-kind supplies from local businesses, as well as support from the diocesan Vision Fund. Tonight the volunteers include Laura Rand, a middle school teacher, who is making sandwiches. The popular combination, she says, is the trifecta of peanut butter, jam and Nutella. Tony greets people with a wide smile, and Michelle and Tim Hardy have been volunteering for eight years, ever since they heard Rob Hosie, another behind-the-scenes supporter, make a call to recruit people at their local Anglican church.
Started by Rick Sandberg in 1986 and funded by the Anglican diocese, the project’s original focus was on street youth who received shoeboxes full of food, socks, and a note. Later, the ministry moved to a building dubbed “Shoebox House” on the property of St. John the Divine. By 2010 the project moved into an aging motorhome, replaced by a newer 1993 model two years ago that was completely renovated to handle crowds of visitors. Rick has moved away now, but the project continues on its firm foundation.
Behind the scenes are people like Barbara Stoeckel, a retired nurse who cooks 18 litres of soup twice a week (three different kinds from her greatest hits recipes like cheesy potato and barbequed chicken), with help from two other soup makers. Her rationale for doing this? “They know that somebody cares,” she said. “We’re demonstrating Jesus.” Hosie, a Victoria realtor, ensures there is adequate funding and manages the motor home. He says it’s a privilege to be involved. ”We are thankful to be engaged in a ministry where we can share God's love to folks in tangible ways. They recognize God's love in the supportive atmosphere, nurturing food, and the relationships we share.”
Volunteers needed: Relief drivers for the RV (commitment would be once/month) on either Tuesday or Thursday, a food coordinator to manage food purchases, preparation and clean up, administration, another on-site volunteer for Thursday evenings in the Street Hope RV, (this would be a once or twice a month commitment), on-call volunteers - people to replace those of us who are occasionally away or are sick.
Organize: Organize a shoebox drive at their church or host a "Cram-the-Van" event at their church where they collected needed food items, clothing and hygiene items for Street Hope folks. Financial contributions are welcome as well.
Photo by Diocesan Post: Barb Stoeckel makes vats of soup for Street Hope every week in her kitchen.