In a region of 350,000 people, Greater Victoria’s homeless and disadvantaged population is staggering, clocking in at roughly 1,387—0.4 per cent of the overall population. With More Than A Number: 2016 Victoria Point in Time Count Summary clocking 17.5 per cent of the island’s population as youth and children, it begs the question: what are we doing to help?
“Homelessness is a big issue on Vancouver Island and especially in Victoria,” says Bryce Reynolds, program coordinator of Esquimalt’s homeless-oriented non-profit, Soap for Hope. “When there is a choice to purchase food or soap, most people would choose food […] Shelters and transitional homes have great programs, but their budgets are stretched like any other non-profit.”
Having partnered with 29 island-wide hotels to reuse and recycle gently-used amenities, Soap for Hope is a program of Disaster Aid that provides humanitarian aid, shelter, sustainable water systems, and hygiene products to disadvantaged people both locally and abroad. “To have an organization like Soap for Hope that can take away [the underprivileged’s] hygiene product problems away is a big help, especially for facilities that offer shower programs. As the general public, we get used to having items like shampoo, razors, and toothbrushes, and take this for granted; this can make it hard to realize how crucial these items really are. Imagine not knowing when you could take your next shower, or not being able to brush your teeth.”
Comprised of Reynolds, one full-time summer student, and a team of dedicated volunteers, Soap for Hope’s hygiene kits are picked up by shelters across Victoria, Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, the Comox Valley, and Campbell River, with out-of-town deliveries being shipped from their Esquimalt office.
“Soap for Hope could not exist without the support of our volunteers,” Reynolds says. “Our head volunteer, Kathy, is at every volunteer night and runs our regular volunteer hours every Monday and Wednesday from 9:30 to 2:30. We are getting to the point that we have more product from hotels than we have volunteers that can handle the volume. If anyone would like to get involved in a fun and easy volunteer experience, email email@example.com!”
With Soap for Hope aiming to expand to mainland BC in the near future, making donations through www.canadahelps.org, donating your gently used or refillable hygiene products, and supporting Soap for Hope online through both Facebook and their website has never been more important.
When asked about a specific moment of thanks that made the hard work and dedication worth it, Reynolds’s response was immediate. “One of my favourite [moments] was from a recipient, and it was a material bag full of products on Mother’s Day… She had written: ‘I just wanted to thank you for the lovely gift bag of soaps and other lovely stuff. Even a fabulous T-shirt! Wow. Way above my pay grade. When I wear it to the gym, I’m sure people will be very impressed. I’ll look like a pro. The soaps and hair products are also luxurious. It’s amazing how little things like that can give such a lift—and such a feeling of people ‘out there’ who care just because we’re all human and they can offer an act of kindness. Truly an unexpected, and much appreciated, exciting gift.”