An unlikely friendship between two Victoria residents has prompted a woman to lend her backyard space to a homeless man during the day so he can find suitable housing.
Banfield Park was where Elaine Smithers and James Baok first met as their dogs played with each other.
After knowing each other for less than a week, Baok opened up to Smithers and confessed that he was unhoused.
“I actually took ventures to be away from people, to not bother people,” Baok told CHEK News.
Currently residing at the park, Baok’s been experiencing homelessness since June and says previous life challenges, including a bad relationship, steered him down this path in life.
His dog, Phantom, was gifted to him for his birthday and led him to take a leave of absence from work to take care of the pup.
Travelling from multiple campsites throughout the summer, Baok soon discovered that finding housing in Victoria’s rental market is nearly impossible, especially with a pet.
“Basically, I’ve done it for a month now, looking. I’ve emailed and looked at places. The problem, I’m guessing, is the dog,” said Baok.
Currently, bylaws in Victoria prohibit sheltering in tents during the daytime.
For Baok, it’s impossible to seek social services or tend to his pet due to the risk of losing his belongings.
Then, Smithers stepped in.
“If he can’t leave his stuff and he’s got his dog with him, he can’t even access the local services that are available,” said Smithers.
The mom of two offered her backyard space to Baok to leave his belongings during the day, giving him the opportunity to explore social services and seek housing.
The man says she’s made it possible for him to also spend time with his dog.
“I feel like I’m getting some positive help from the community,” said Baok.
Baok is on disability and previously worked in the construction and hospitality industry and says he may have a job lined up once he finds suitable housing.
Until then, Baok and Smithers continue to learn new things about each other, including that both have ties in Nova Scotia.
“Bluenosers have to stay together,” added Smithers.