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Project Connect draws 700 from street community to annual check-in

Oct 18 2012
Chris Lacombe gets a foot treatment from UVic nursing student Emily Dunkley as part of Project Connect  at Our Place. 

Chris Lacombe gets a foot treatment from UVic nursing student Emily Dunkley as part of Project Connect at Our Place.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , Times Colonist

The shoes, with pointy toes and shiny black patent leather patches, were irresistible.

"They're kind of old-fashioned. Like Victoria," said Sylvia Duna-jtschik as she admired her feet.

It was an unexpected treat, pulled from racks and baskets of free clothes, for Dunajtschik, one of more than 700 members of the street community who dropped in to Our Place on Pandora Avenue for the annual Project Connect service and information fair organized by Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

Services ranged from haircuts to hand massages and, as live music played in the courtyard, Gordon Fry of Capital City Lions Club, the Beacon Bus crew and teams of volunteer helpers from KPMG served up 1,350 burgers, 600 hot dogs, two slabs of Nanaimo bars and a smattering of veggie burgers.

"They are hungry. We've never stopped," said Fry as the lineup finally wound down.

For Dunajtschik, 52, who is homeless, the party atmosphere was a pleasant surprise.

"I heard about it last night and I have to get a birth certificate so that's why I came," she said. "It's just brutal out there. You get your stuff taken all the time. I got my purse stolen the other day."

Dunajtschik spends most of her life looking for places to sleep as she bounces between shelters, doorways and Beacon Hill Park.

"The 24-hour stores are very good, especially if you need to go to the washroom. It's hard to find a washroom downtown," she said. "I might go to Colwood. I might be safer out there."

One of the most popular Project Connect services each year is help with ID replacement, offered by MLA Carole James's office. Volunteers worked nonstop on more than 130 requests.

"I haven't had ID for five years, but I am marked - I have tattoos, so they know it's me," said Chad Rurak, who receives disability payments after two head injuries.

"I am struggling with the place where I pick my cheque up," said Rurak, who figures ID could make life easier.

Kevin Roe sighed with pleasure as he sunk his feet into a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts.

"It's good to relax and it's good to get my toes cleaned, because sometimes that's hard to do," Roe said as Vanessa Reynolds, a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Victoria, prepared the next step.

"Sometimes we use Head and Shoulders shampoo because it helps fungal infections and then we clip the toenails and file them and sandpaper the calluses and look for warts and infections and cuts and blisters," Reynolds said.

Jeff Brand sat comfortably in a chair, acupuncture needles sticking out of his arms and legs. He hopes the treatment will help his digestive problems.

"I've wanted to do this for a while," he said. "It didn't hurt or anything. I could have had a nap."

More than 20 pets were treated by a team of veterinarians who brought them up to date on shots and worming and checked for other problems.

Hurley, a black and white pit-bull mix, avoided the vet, but ran into diet problems. "Someone fed him hamburgers and he barfed all over the place," said temporary caregiver Trevor Reid.

For others, like Danou Evans, Project Connect offered a business opportunity.

"I am the king of salvage," said Evans, displaying a Victorian-style evening purse and a 1918 dime.

"I don't get welfare because I don't want it," he said. Evans rescues items from the garbage and sells them.

"Everything I am wearing came out of the garbage," he said, showing off his jeans, multicoloured shoes and leather vest.

"Who does that? Who throws it all away?"


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