Local mobile initiative hopes to expand from van to resource center
On the outside, the white panel van sporting only the word “Justice” might not look like much, but it serves as a lifeline for members of the Victoria street community. Six nights a week, The Justice Van Society delivers food, clothing, shelter, and other equipment to people living on the street.
The society was started in 2018 by UVic alumni, soccer coach, and retired social worker Frank Woods. When the community barbeque where he volunteered was forced to move locations, he noticed that the clientele changed. Many of the people they had been feeding at the previous location could no longer attend the barbeque for fear that their property would be stolen if left unattended. Realizing the need for a mobile initiative, Frank bought a van and loaded it with any supplies he thought people might need: tents, sleeping bags, sandwiches, clothing and medical supplies.
“The word ‘justice’ just kept coming to me,” says Woods, “I looked into it and found a definition: Restoring what’s broken.”
He christened the van with magnetic signs, and went out twice a week. Now he’s almost never alone in the van, as the solo endeavour has evolved into a society with volunteers that help with the van outings. Woods used to purchase the sandwiches he delivered, but now volunteers make them each week. In response to Covid-19, the society has partnered with Anawim House and makes six trips a week.
Woods credits the generosity of his friends and community members for keeping the van running.
“Most people want to help the homeless but they don’t know how,” Woods says, adding that he sees the society as providing an outlet for people to contribute.
“You give me a tent, you’re giving the person the tent,” says Woods, “I’m just the conduit.”
Looking to the future, the Justice Van Society is setting their sights on a building.
“Eventually we want to not just give someone a sandwich,” says Woods, “We’ll always give you a sandwich, but let’s try to walk you through getting out.”
He says Anawim House, the society’s current partner, is a potential model. Anawim provides accommodation, showers, laundry, as well as job search assistance, counselling, and skill development workshops.
The goal of the building is to have a stronger presence during the day. While operating out of the van is essential in many ways, a static location would allow the society to expand their resources. They hope to have a clothing exchange to keep items out of the landfill, as well as laundry facilities.
“[Accommodation] would be icing on the cake,” says Woods.
Right now, they are focusing on a space where people can create connections and access support. A place to come in for coffee and talk, says Woods. To build relationships and ask: “what is it you need?”
This is how the Justice Van Society begins all interactions with the people they’re helping. From the initial inspiration for the Justice Van, to the nightly deliveries, to future visions for the society, it all begins with a question to communities experiencing poverty: “What is it you need?”