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the Homeless: Woodwynn Farms Working Towards Change

Updated on May 24, 2012

Life on the Streets

Richard Leblanc has traded places with a homeless man to raise awareness
Richard Leblanc has traded places with a homeless man to raise awareness | Source

A therapeutic community is a place that offers opportunity to the marginalized people within our society.

A place to learn a new skill, to regain the self confidence stripped away by the perception of failure, to get the health care; the medical, dental and mental health help that we all need, to access legal assistance and, it's a home of a like-minded of residents and healers who have all come together to help each other.

A therapeutic community offers an opportunity that permanently turns lives around.



Inspired by San Patrignaon, a therapeutic work community in Italy, in 2006 Richard LeBlanc had a dream. He had experienced first hand the results of the homeless situation quickly taking hold in Victoria, British Columbia and realized a crisis was evolving that needed to be changed. 1500 homeless were living on the streets at the time (2006) and 80% of the homeless in Victoria are originally from Vancouver Island.

He dreamed of creating a community similar to San Patrignaon in the southern Vancouver Island area, close to where the homeless of the island congregate; Victoria. He started gathering information, support and established mentors in all areas that needed to be addressed to make the community a success. Experts have lent themselves to the project to ensure it is done right, that protocol and guidelines were established and that supports could be properly put in place. He did his due diligence. Richard went into this well prepared and open to making it happen respectfully.

And so in early 2009 that dream was at the beginning of it's reality.

the Homeless Population is Growing

no one expects to end up living on the street
no one expects to end up living on the street | Source

Woodwynn Farms

Woodwynn Farms is now a Therapeutic Community located on Vancouver Island, 30 minutes from Victoria, in Saanichton, British Columbia. It is a 193 acre organic farm, specifically purchased to be used as place where homeless people living on the streets of Victoria can go to transform their lives. Eventually they are hoping the maximum number of residents living on the farm annually will be 96, and as years pass they have the potential to have helped thousands of many people.

The farm was purchased with the knowledge that the zoning was for farm based use, but because the focus of the therapeutic community is farming, they "bought the farm" anyway, hoping to come up with creative solutions for housing, either off or on the site.

Now buying the farm did not come without some resistance from the neighbours. A NIMBY (not in my backyard) campaign was launched.

Ensuring that the neighbours and entire community understood the project enough to support it, became of monumental importance; it was clear that the neighbours didn't understand the concept and and how the therapeutic community would operate on a day to day basis, and that's fair enough. This new idea had everyone wanting to know how it would impact their lives.

Woodwynn with Members

Spelling it Out

The Woodwynn Farms model follows the San Patrignaon path and I encourage you to follow the link to the story to understand better what Woodwynn Farms is hoping to achieve on a smaller scale, it's an amazing concept.

Let's look at the basic profile of someone who is a good potential candidate for the program at Woodwynn Farms; a homeless person who is in the system and wants to get out . They are interested in living and working on the farm. They must be drug tested are only accepted into the program if they are drug and alcohol free. There is a no tolerance policy in place, no exceptions.

Once a member is accepted into the program, the farm is their home, and they will not be leaving the property. They won't want to leave the property. All of their needs will be met there.

They will, like in San Patrignaon, be partnered up with an established resident or, in the beginning, with a counselor who is there to be a support, a sounding board and a mentor to help them get through the program successfully. Their needs will be met and they'll have a place they belong; on the farm.

It usually takes about 4 years for a resident to be ready to leave this kind of therapeutic community, and that's okay, because when they return to the bigger community they came from, they are healthy individuals, ready, willing and able to function without their addictions.

Woodwynn Farms has gained the support of hundreds of volunteers who have contributed their time and energy preparing the land, buildings and barns. They have planted organic gardens and have opened a small Saturday Farm stand as well as selling the hay that has been harvested.

Woodwynn Farm Update 2011


Since the purchase of the land they have clearly shown that their intention is to cultivate and contribute to the sustainability of local farm practices, and they have done it respectfully with due diligence; they brought in local experts in the fields of organics, farming, animals and renovations; all areas which needed to be made ready for members of the homeless community's new safe haven. They followed the path presented to the public and have demonstrated their good intentions.

They had 4 homeless people from the streets of Victoria living at the farm and with support staff in place, they started the program. Volunteers had given the house a face lift so the farm was fresh, clean and felt new, after hours of hard labour. With 2 existing houses on the property, they had filled one with staff and residents.

Woodwynn Farms was finally established as a functioning therapeutic community created so that the friends and families of those who live in the area have a place to heal; it was happening.

Letters of Support are Needed

But as with any great human cause whose solution is outside the box and not a government funded and regulated, more help and public support is needed.

After 3 years of successful start up and preparation, two fundamental issues have come to the table that are threatening the survival of this therapeutic farm community whose goal is preservation of the land and human souls.

Zoning regulations need to be amended and operating funds are now threatening the life that has been given to this much needed therapeutic community.

Letters of support are desperately needed urging the local council to advise the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) that they strongly support a zoning change to allow residents of Woodwynn Community who are being trained as farmhands, to live on the property. To allow zoning which would allow 96 residents and the necessary support staff who are tending to the 193 acre property to live on the land in a confined controlled area, ensuring maximum farmland use.

Zoning on farms in BC, from what I understand, allows for farmhands to live on the farm during growing season in temporary housing. Here in the Victoria area it rarely snows and so there is work to be done on a farm all year round, food can be grown all year round. The plans for the layout of the housing keeps it together in one area so there is minimal impact on the farmable acreage.

The plans are respectful of the farmland and the people who will be tending it, why is this being held up? This makes no sense.

Where Can the Homeless Go?

no ID means panhandling for a living and sleeping an a tent at night
no ID means panhandling for a living and sleeping an a tent at night | Source

2,012 donations of $1 a Day

What exactly will 2,012 donations of $1 a day actually do for the farm? What exactly will they do with that money? I wanted to know and contacted Richard to get he answer.

With the zoning as it is issue, 2,012 donations of $1 would put 4 homeless people back on the farm as well as Richard, and the program would be up and running again. Those 4 would be back on their way to a full recovery. That includes full operational support for all three components needed to run Woodwynn Farms; the farm, the housing and the office and everything required to keep it functioning. Food, hydro, insurance, taxes, vehicles, equipment, staff and everything needed would all be accessible.

If there was no zoning issue in the way, 2,012 donations of $1 would put 12 homeless people on the farm, gradually, as the protocol dictates, but 8 more people could be helped with the same donations, the intakes would be sooner because the process could start immediately.

Not allowing the rezoning is going to interfere with 8 more people being helped right away. 8 people's lives being turned around is huge, and that's just with what 2,012 $1 a day could help the program achieve.

The public needs to be made aware of the issues surrounding the survival of the farm and so an unusual awareness campaign has been launched.

Journey to the Edges 2012: Trading Places for Real

At the moment Woodwynn Farms is operating at minimum capacity. There is only one man living there, his name is Ed.

Richard Leblanc is now living on the streets in a van he traded with Ed, a "former" homeless person who is now living on the farm. Richard is also living the $320 per month income Ed receives from the government.

The project is called Journey to the Edges 2012 and they've traded places in real life.

Crazy and yet creative idea this journey that is meant to get people thinking about the issue of homelessness, supporting the rezoning of Woodwynn Farms and making enough donations to keep the Woodwynn Farms therapeutic community running. They have had to stop the program and remove the 4 residents until they get money for operating costs re-established.

Richard has committed to staying on the streets until two outcomes have been achieved;

1) 2,012 donations of $1 a day have been made to Woodwynn Farms to aid with the operating costs.

The farm will not have to rely only on donations forever, but this operation is still in the start up stage. The long term goal is to generate half of the operating costs on the property by the residents in the program and the other half in the form of donations.

2) 2,012 letters of support for the rezoning of Woodwynn have been sent to the mayor and council.

It doesn't matter where you live it matters that you care enough to take the time to let them know that you support this project and you believe they should allow the change in zoning.

Homelessness is on every street corner

just leaving one of the shelters in town, there are still not enough
just leaving one of the shelters in town, there are still not enough | Source

Not My Problem

Although the problem of homelessness is overwhelming, it's getting worse and it's not going way. There is a misconception that because the homeless aren't hanging out in smaller local communities yet, it's not their problem to deal with. Well, the homeless problem belongs to all of us and it's our social responsibility to help change it in ways we can.

Could this be one of the main reasons local communities don't want to be involved in fixing the homeless and addiction problems in their cities? The belief that it's not our problem leaves no room for compromise.

This is one of those conversations that everyone needs to discuss and agree to support methods that create long term results as interested, involved citizens. This is not just a local community issue, this involves everyone in every community. It's one of the elephants in the world.

I ask everyone reading to do something outstanding: support this change, this cause, step up and make a difference.

Are you one of the 2,012 that can spare $1 a day to help give someone a home? Have you got time to write an email or make a video? Help get Richard and others off the street and back into the healthy, clean environment that comes with farming.

Please feel free to share this article and pass it on.

copyright © eye say 2012

a Video from Saanich, BC

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    • eye say profile image

      eye say 6 years ago from Canada

      Peninsula Farmer - Brilliant comment, well said. You are correct indeed; what a waste of land and human potential all at the same time. I am offended by the ALC decision regarding this truly sustainable farm model. It makes me realize government agencies like the ALC isn't really supporting farming either ...

    • profile image

      Peninsula Farmer 6 years ago

      Refused by the ALC. Now you see why farmers produce hay, which is also Woodwynns primary crop. Farmers hands are tied by a public that wants the land saved for farming but refuses to buy the products at a price that allows the farmer to break even.

    • eye say profile image

      eye say 6 years ago from Canada

      DMartelonline" thank you for sharing that link; and thanks to the Lions club for distributing it; it sure does dispel so many of the myths associated wit the homeless, I think parents should be reading it as well.

      I am going to pass it on, fantastic booklet thank you very much for sharing it.

    • profile image

      DMartelonline 6 years ago

      You are correct EyeSay - and ironically enough this is a booklet that some Lions Clubs have distributed at breakfasts to educate both kids and parents about some of these "myths"

    • eye say profile image

      eye say 6 years ago from Canada

      @Marc: glad you think this is timely, but need to inform you that most homeless are actually not there by choice. I have worked with the homeless both on paper and personally and, especially theses days, the economic hardship causing loss of material possessions, divorce, and unemployment all play major roles in putting people on the street. We all want to think they have chosen to live on the street, but the fact is, it is not statistically true. I heard a couple days ago, there are 30 million people homeless in the USA alone; some of that is a result of people losing their homes as a result of the crash of the mortgages market and banks calling in their loans, none of it is because they prefer the lifestyle. Too many families are living in cars and vans right now and trust me it's not because they want to.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clear up that myth...

    • Marc Babineau profile image

      Marc Babineau 6 years ago from Cornwall, Ontario, The Seaway City

      Great, timely hub. As spring approaches the ranks of the homeless will multiply. Even though the majority of the homeless are homeless by choice, the problem needs addressing.

    • eye say profile image

      eye say 6 years ago from Canada

      thanks Rachel, their website has regular updates from Richard as he experiences life on the street, nights sound pretty cold...

      thanks for reading,

    • profile image

      Rachel 6 years ago

      Great Hub! well written. Just like in San Patrignaon, Italy. Will look into this further for sure.