GVAT (Greater Victoria Acting Together) is an alliance of unions, congregations, environmental, education, local business, and frontline service organizations, working together for the common good in Greater Victoria and British Columbia. Congregation Emanu-El is a GVAT founding member. We have congregants who participate in Action Research Teams that are currently working on three issues: 1. Housing for all, 2. Mental Health and Addictions care, and 3. Climate Action.
Greatly concerned about youth homelessness during these COVID-19 times, GVAT wrote to the provincial government ministers in charge of this issue on July 24, 2020. Here is a link to this letter…
If you sense and believe that you can be an agent of positive change in our world, and you hold that it is possible for us to generate greater justice, greater harmony, and greater peace, then you are, in essence, a person of faith. Our faith traditions offer teachings, narratives and details that are often clouded in mysteries or obscured by semantics and these can sometimes generate division and separation. However, when we glimpse how interconnected all of creation really is, we can transcend division and fear and move towards Oneness. To love the other as you love yourself is a powerful commitment that faith demands from each of us and this tenet is found in almost all spiritual and wisdom traditions.
One way that love manifests is through wanting another person to have and experience the things that you need and cherish—like waking up in a secure place in a warm dry bed that is my own. My sense is that a real marker of a spiritual awakening is rising compassion. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer together.” Deep compassion sometimes hurts. Compassion towards the homeless in our community begins when we realize that the homeless are us. The homeless are not some strange tribe of people who congregate on Pandora Avenue or Topaz Park. The homeless are our siblings.
Homelessness is a painful image reflected back to all of us from the mirror of our collective soul. We can spin discourses on the origins of our homeless problem but in doing so we often place the blame on something outside ourselves and do not take ownership of the reality. We know from our faith traditions and from rational logic that it is the most vulnerable among us who should be in the center of our community—a place where they are protected, visible and accessible, a place where the most vulnerable can receive the care and support they need.
Marginalization as a default is emblematic of injustice. Turning to our police force to maintain order and protect us from our community’s weakest members suggests we are losing our faith as a collective, that we are buying into the growing manipulative narrative that feeds our fear, pounding into our consciousness a fear that there is lack, that we are limited, and that we need to shore up our own needs and compete with one another for basic survival. This fear-driven narrative of lack, competition and mistrust generates division and is antithetical to faith.
We have no magic wand to neatly solve this enormous issue. We know that insights and wise choices need to come both from the top down and the bottom up. The 1st century BCE sage Hillel taught, “If I am not for me who will be, if I am only for myself what am I, if not now, when?” We need to ensure that our actions are doable and sustainable. There is a difference between discomfort and irreparable damage. We must act because not acting or pushing this off onto others diminishes us as a compassionate community. We must act now. Let’s show each other that we really mean it when we say, “We are in this together.”
Prepared by Rabbi Harry and endorsed by members of Victoria’s faith based clergy.
Urgent Action needed: Spread compassion, Stop diseases. — You can help. Our homelessness service providers need more funding to respond to this crisis. Please donate generously to Avodah who will ensure all monies go directly to those organizations working on the front line.
On a typical night about 1,500 people in the CRD are homeless. These people face special challenges during this pandemic. Homeless people tend to be vulnerable to infections due to the combination of daily stress, chronic diseases, and poor nutrition. They often lack basic hygiene resources like sinks and clean toilets, and opportunities to bathe and wear clean clothes. They are often in crowded conditions and share food and cigarettes. Crowded shelters are particularly risky environments.
Public health officials advise people exposed to or infected by contagious diseases to stay home and minimize contact with other people. Quarantines are difficult enough for people with stable homes and reliable incomes; they are virtually impossible for people who are homeless or living in crowded or unhealthy homes. If they do become infected, they will need to stay in hospitals, using scarce beds, adding stresses and costs to overburdened public health services. Everybody benefits if we can reduce the risks of infectious diseases to homeless service providers’ clients, staff and volunteers.
Homeless service providers are acting to reduce infection risks, including more frequent cleaning of their facilities and equipment, and providing information and support to their clients. Some are closing service altogether. These efforts reduce risks to clients, staff and volunteers, but leave critical gaps and will be inadequate if COVID-19 becomes established in our community. On March 18, Our Place closed down its drop-in space, computer lab, courtyard, hygiene, and clothing area but plans to continue operating its washroom facilities, transitional housing, shelter spaces, and providing three daily meals. Cool Aid is closing its dental clinic and community centre. Our homelessness service providers need more funding to respond to this crisis. You can help. Our homelessness service providers need more funding to respond to this crisis. Please donate generously to Avodah who will ensure all monies go directly to those organizations working on the front line. The synagogue office is closed but Zelda can access the shul’s telephone number and is working from home. Send her an email or call (250)-382-0615 and if necessary leave a phone message, letting her know that you wish to donate and she will get back to you.
extremely tight housing market is resulting in rising rental costs, low vacancy
rates and high competition for available units. Many families struggle to
keep a roof over their heads.
help families who are at risk of or are experiencing homelessness, Avodah
Social Action Group has partnered with the Burnside Gorge Community Centre for
several years. Avodah provides $485 in monthly funds- $360 a month for
rent and utilities for up to three families and an additional $125 a month for
emergency food cards.
Gorge, in its quarterly reports to Avodah, details how Avodah’s funds are
spent. Following are a few examples from these reports:
single mother received word that she had been accepted into subsidized housing
after a three year wait. Though working full-time, she was struggling to
come up with funds to cover a damage deposit, rent and moving costs. A
rent supplement was provided to assist her in covering the damage
deposit, ensuring she was able to accept the unit. ”
“ A family with two children aged seven and two were at imminent risk of
having their electricity disconnected due to the high costs of winter
heating. After exhausting all other possible financial resource from
family, friends, and other community organizations the Housing Outreach team
was able prevent the loss of electricity with an Avodah subsidy; in order
to prevent further disconnection notices the Housing Outreach team
arranged an affordable equal payment plan between the family and
” A single father had his hours cut at work and was struggling to pay his
rent. A rent supplement was provided to cover the remainder of his rent
and ensure he kept his unit in subsidized housing. He was then able to
focus on securing a second job to increase his income and ensure he is able to
pay his rent on time"
In concluding their report, The Family Housing Outreach Workers thank Avodah
for our continuing financial support, saying how Burnside Gorge Community
Association’s work, in combination with our monthly cheques, helps families
achieve long term success in maintaining housing.
Your donation to Avodah will help ensure continued support for this program.
Emanu-El’s Avodah Social Action Group is happy to inform you that Avodah has
received grants from the following organizations:
Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island: $3,000
The Betty Averbach Foundation: $4,500
substantial financial support will help us greatly to carry out our important
programs to help youth, adults and families who are experiencing homelessness
and poverty in Victoria. Thanks to the generosity of these donors, as
well as to the consistent support of our congregation, we look forward to
continuing to make a difference in the lives of people in need in Victoria,
with renewed strength and dedication.
Action Week, Oct. 17–20
For Homelessness Action Week, Avodah is now collecting much-needed winter items and
Most needed items:
socks & underwear
gloves and mittens
toques and scarves
razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss
deodorant, nall clippers and files.
combs and small brushes
lip balm, Q-tips
feminine hygiene products, Band-aids, toilet paper
non-scented baby wipes, baby powder
dog & cat food
USB flash drives
pencils and notepads.
goods, such as peanut butter, tuna, canned fruit, cereal always needed as well.
bring items to the Avodah box in the synagogue foyer; or you can take items to
the following drop-off locations, between Oct. 11 and 17:
Rock Bay Landing of Victoria Cool Aid Society
St. Vincent de
Greater Victoria Public Library branches.
Note: Oct. 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day when
anti-poverty advocates in Canada join together to call for a federal anti-poverty
plan to address systemic causes of poverty. You can check out www.chewonthis.ca for more details.
Avodah is very pleased to report that thanks to our caring, generous donors, Avodah has bought 75 new sleeping bags and 60 mylar emergency blankets to meet the critical need of people living on the street.
Avodah has also received and donated twenty new blankets to the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Response Plan, which kicks in on the coldest nights of the year to provide emergency shelter. Sincere thanks to all our donors who responded so immediately to our sleeping bag appeal, with special thanks to Sleeping Bag Lady Jackie for her determination and action to get these much-needed sleeping bags out on the streets asap!
Avodah invites and thanks you for your donations, which make it possible for us to help people in huge need. Together, with your support, we can continue to make a difference in our community.
Help those experiencing homelessness in our community. Avodah is now collecting items for Project Connect care packs. Project Connect is a service fair for people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty. It takes place on Oct. 21 at Our Place. Each of the 700 people who attend will receive a care pack, full of essential items for the coming winter months.
Please bring the following needed items to the Avodah box in the foyer of the synagogue by Thursday, Oct. 16: