On a recent, quiet Thursday evening, Victoria residents gathered to talk about homelessness.
“We want to ask, ‘How can we work together and get behind this community and be of assistance to them?’” said Danna Cole, who organized the event.
About 30 people met to discuss homelessness at a Conversations Over Coffee event run by the Center for Peace Victoria. The monthly conversations are intended to bring community members together to engage in meaningful conversations about topics relevant to the community by discussing thought-provoking questions, said Cole, the organizer of the event and founder of the Center for Peace Victoria.
Thursday’s conversation was timely. Tuesday, the Victoria City Council passed an ordinance that restricts where people can camp in the city. When the ordinance goes into effect later this week, people will be prohibited from camping in primarily residential areas and historic districts.
“Now more than ever in this community, homeless is being talked about,” Cole said. “We’re hoping this event is just the start to looking at the homelessness situation here.”
Participants at the event sat among small tables and delved into conversations centered on homelessness and solutions.
Trish Hastings, the executive director of Christ’s Kitchen, shared some information about homelessness in the region. She said there is a significant need for educating the community about homelessness.
“Maybe communities working together will lead to finding a way to make a difference,” she said.
During the conversations, participants first ranked five values in order of importance to them. The values were freedom, equality, security, liberty and justice.
“Someone who ranks security at the top of their list might be more afraid of having someone they don’t know camping in front of their property,” Cole said. “It’s important to recognize how we are different.”
Participants were asked to share their experiences with homelessness and how they feel when they see someone homeless on the streets. The words “sad,” “nervous” and “lucky” could be heard throughout the room.
Some said they feel lucky to have never experienced homelessness firsthand, while others opened up and shared personal stories of family members being homeless.
The most important part of the evening, Cole said, was when the conversations shifted to solutions. Participants answered questions including: What do you expect from your city, county, state or federal government with regards to homelessness? What are your hopes regarding homelessness in the future? How can you personally contribute to the solutions?
Answers ranged from writing to state and federal representatives and asking for more funding to use for mental health services and affordable housing to, more locally, supporting organizations that already serve the homeless.
Cole said she had invited all members of the Victoria City Council to attend. Joe Garcia, the president of Center for Peace Victoria, thanked council members Mark Loffgren and Josephine Soliz for attending.
Closing the evening, Cole encouraged participants to continue caring about the homelessness issue and seeking solutions.
“We can’t stop having these conversations,” she said. “It’s important that we don’t.”