A project dedicated to supporting homeless people has been recognized by Island Health. For the project’s contributions to its community, it won Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) Community Service Award earlier this month.
The project was created by Victoria resident Nikki Ottosen in 2008 with the goal of providing tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and food to those who live without homes.
Ottosen says she started to become familiar with those experiencing homelessness in her community, through her work as a gardener.
“I used to work for different municipalities, such as Saanich and UVic, and I would work at the gardens where I first met the communities homeless, so I got to know these folks at my place of work,” says Ottosen. “My aunt was homeless for 12 years back during a time where the right to sleep was not yet won, so it was illegal for her to be outside sleeping without a home.”
2008 saw the formation of this project as a result, with the project’s first eight years focusing more on bringing comfort items for the holidays, before shifting towards other forms of support.
Ottosen says she’s focused on changing the way people think about those who are unhoused.
“To break down the stigma around people who are unhoused, and to educate friends and neighbours who don’t really understand how or why they end up there, or how hard it is to get back to housing once unhoused,” says Ottosen.
“I’m pushing for change, starting at municipal levels, and that starts by making it known to mayor and council that these in fact are our community members, our friends and family, and that everyone deserves a home.”
For more info on this project, you can visit the Backpack Project’s Facebook page.