Like many others, Jimmy Sarasin used to frequent the 900-block of Pandora Avenue in Victoria as he grappled with addiction.
Four years later, he’s found himself back on the block, but this time from a completely different perspective: as one of the street’s caretakers.
“I used to use these services four years ago, I was struggling in active addiction. Since then I’ve reclaimed my life, I’ve gotten my children back, and people need to see that,” he said.
Sarasin and his coworker Katherine Francis are the new Pandora corridor caretakers. It’s a pilot project run by SOLID Outreach in partnership with the City of Victoria and funded with a $125,000 grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
The pair, both with lived experience on the streets, act like a sort of buffer or peacemaker between police and bylaw and the street community.
“We kind of help both sides, we want everyone to feel heard and make everyone understand just what’s expected of them without causing any disruption, keeping the peace, making everyone feel equal,” said Francis.
It’s hard not to notice a change on the block since the duo started. Earlier in the pandemic, it was overrun with tents, belongings and garbage.
Today, it’s noticeably cleaner with only one tent visible Thursday morning.
“It’s just cleaner, calmer, the mood is better,” said Fred Cameron, Director of SOLID Outreach.
While the caretakers help find storage and encourage cleanliness, Cameron admits with a lack of housing there aren’t many options for moving campers on.
“So we’ve moved a few people into the parks, I think there has been some uptake on the sheltering but we’ve also moved some people that we don’t know where they’ve gone,” he said.
For Dave Jean, who frequents Pandora and has known Sarasin and Francis for years, the pair’s daily presence has brought back a sense of hope that change is possible.
“It makes me know that, and other people too, that where they were and where a lot of people are can come out of that and become independent,” Jean said. “I can tell just by looking at them that they’ve got plants and pictures up you know what I mean?” he joked.
But there’s also something these caretakers have that others who’ve tried to fix the problems there before may have been missing.
“The biggest key strength I have is trust and everything off that trust can be built,” said Sarasin. “I don’t forget where I come from and I try to stay connected and it keeps me accountable to myself, my community and it’s a very positive experience.”
The funding for the pilot project is in place until July 31, 2023.