Why I Don’t Support Woodwynn Farm

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(This post ranks high in web searches for ‘Woodwynn Farms’ and continues to be read several times each day. I just want to make it clear that I do not oppose the existence of the project, nor encourage you NOT to donate to the project. I wrote this simply to express why I am not jumping on the bandwagon and joining efforts to promote the project. Do I think they should get their approval to go ahead with this project? Sure. But that’s beside the point.)

Woodwynn Farms, the proposed therapeutic farming community for homeless people, has been in the news again lately, first with an announcement that they had to suspend operations, and now today, an announcement that a philanthropist had put forward $200,000 to spur community support.
I’ve been following the Woodwynn farms story since Richard LeBlanc started shopping his idea around the community. I even covered it for B Channel News, which I think I did very sympathetically. In reality,
For those not familiar with the project, Woodwynn Farms is a property in Central Saanich (Tsartlip Territory) that was purchased a few years back with $6 million dollars of donated money to help deal with homelessness.
I sat on the Committee to End Homelessness when Richard LeBlanc came and asked us for our support, and I held my tongue, as I have until now, because I guess I thought it was mean to criticize people who are working to help homeless people.
In reality, I’m not as excited about this project as most people.

Here’s why:
I’ve done a lot of research on public opinion regarding solutions to homelessness, as part of the Temporary Autonomous Shelter Collective, and as a question for random people on the street while filming ‘Speaker’s Corner’. A popular suggestion, coming mostly from people who don’t want to see homelessness on their pretty Victorian streets, is to ship them away to a farm to do hard labour and get over their addictions.
This common sentiment is why, among hundreds of ideas that many of us have had, Richard LeBlanc was able to drop in out of nowhere, and without really consulting with people on the street and determining what they want, was able to raise $6 million dollars to purchase this huge farm.
Woodwynn Farms has been having trouble getting the zoning variances they need to house up to 100 people on the farm, mostly due to bullshit prejudices of alcoholic homeless people as a threat to public safety, even when under the strict control of psychologists and other ‘staff’. While Central Saanich council is a special breed of insane, and their criticisms are targeted at homeless people, my criticisms, which I share with many people on the street that I’ve talked to, is that it is not what we all want on the street. It’s what the average mean-spirited homeless hater wants, for us to be shipped away to some island or farm
to do hard labour and become productive members of society again.
As far as solutions to homelessness go, it is a solution from the end of the spectrum that perceives homelessness as a failing of the individual. Which is not to say that every program aimed at dealing with homelessness should address the systemic causes of homelessness, but personally I am not thrilled by approaches that don’t. That’s just me. I feel I must advocate for more approaches to homelessness that take into account the systemic causes because the general public is far too focused on the idea that it is strictly a matter of personal choice, or personal failure, and that in order to end homelessness, we must heal and teach homeless people to become productive members of society again.
I disagree that a program that can only ever help a small percentage of the homeless population can be considered to be such a major part of efforts to combat homelessness. I also doubt that Woodwynn Farms will ever be able to convince 100 people at a time from this area to hand their lives over to a bunch of upper-middle class ‘professionals’, charity workers, philanthropists and volunteers for up to a year of hard labour at a time, even if they do get their zoning.
I guess I have a little bit of a personal gripe, and that’s why I have held back for so long on this criticism. My personal gripe was that I’ve completely burnt myself out these last few years researching community-based solutions to homelessness that take into account not just the systemic causes, but more importantly the needs and wishes of those most affected by homelessness, and the people who have been working on this issue for so long. That Richard LeBlanc parachutes in out of nowhere and can raise $6 million for a project that nobody I’ve met on the street thought they wanted or needed, seems to be a slight hijacking of our movement. But that’s just me.
For the sake of protecting myself from libel here, I don’t think LeBlanc is a scammer looking to make a name for himself at the expense of homeless people. He’s not a cult leader, and he’s not in it for the money. I do believe he is a genuinely nice person trying to do a good thing, but it involves a certain kind of paternalism and Mother Theresaism that really turns my stomach, and I consider it quite condescending.
If and when the program is allowed to start there, and homeless people get to move in, they’ll be staying in dorm accommodation while LeBlanc lives in the big house by himself. I’m not one for hierarchy, and I prefer co-operative approaches that include participants in planning and decision making where everyone is treated as an equal, but I can’t fault LeBlanc for being part of an overwhelming status quo, I guess.
The board of directors does not include any homeless people, and lastly, they operate under this idea that in order to cure people they need to take them out of their comfort zones. I saw how this played out the day I went up there with some folks from the street. One of the guys, dying of cancer, was a diesel mechanic who had not worked for many years, but never stops talking about cars and engines. He discovered some old trucks on the property that he thought he could fix, and was begging to get wrenching on them. Instead, he was handed a shovel and told to fill in potholes in the driveway with gravel.
I guess I just believe that honouring a person’s gifts and encouraging them to do what they are good at is a helpful thing, but apparently not. I guess LeBlanc and I have a different idea of how to respect people’s dignity.
Call me an anarchist, but as homeless as I am and as much as I like farming, you’d need a court order to get me into that situation.

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14 responses »

  1. Thanks for this! A really great article on issues that have been totally absent from mainstream coverage of Woodwynn.

  2. In the documentary on the farm I hear one of the men helping to build something here talking about healing, being a part of something and finding a purpose in life.

    Much of what could happen here will happen in the practice of doing it. Despite the ideals of more prosperous volunteers, I think that as they interact with homeless people they will discovery a humanity that they forgot about.

    People are stopping, searching for beauty and peace and finding it.

    As the project continues more people will become involved. I think this is an excellent project because it brings people together. I read a quote of Mother Teresa’s that said that the greatest poverty is solitude. Maybe those who feel they have what they need will discover that we are all destitute and in working the land and feeling that connection with people and nature all may have an enrichening experience.

    I hope to hear more about organic farming and community leaving. This is really a spark of hope in a world where selfishness and entitlement is tearing us apart.

  3. I like your line of criticalness.
    Though I was hoping more to hear about feral space and horizontal organization.
    a great blog a friend of mine keeps is goingferal.wordpress.com
    peace
    Ben

  4. Sadly, this guy’s ego paid over 6 million dollars of other people’s money for a $4 millon agricultural property, thus shutting out any viable farmer and raising land costs. He’s not doing well so far. He knows little about agriculture, and the property is in serious disarray. The operators are in contravention of most zoning and planning bylaws, including the Agricultural Land Commission.
    In closing I would like to commend the City of Victoria for good initiatives. The city is working within the current footprint, close to necessary services, and is truly making a diference, That is where my donations go.
    The Woodwynn issue is a very poor use of other peoples’ money.

  5. You’ve done alot of research, and spent alot of time creating a website that explains why “nice people turn your stomach” but other than that, I don’t see you doing anything to help the situation.
    Your time and energy should be spent on positive change. Not knocking down someone who is clearly trying to help. Even if he does live in “the bigger house.”

    • My time IS spent doing positive things. I just don’t write a press release every time I do something in my community,and am not inclined to blog about my every good deed. So don’t assume you know me or can advise me how I should spend my time. That I apply critical thinking in regards to the things I see is not a bad thing. One is not required to jump on every bandwagon out there. I am allowed to pick and choose the projects I support, and have written this post in response to the oppressive group-think idea that if I care about homelessness I should be out volunteering for Woodwynn. Your comment is an example of the attitude I’m responding to. He’s welcome to do what he does, but I don’t appreciate being insulted because I’d rather do and support something else. If you read closely enough I’m not telling people not to support him, I’m not saying he shouldn’t be doing what he is doing. I’m explaining why I am not a supporter. He’s got lots of supporters, rabidly defending his project, as we can see.
      I also see that some things have changed up there, and I am more supportive of the informal approach that seems to be happening.
      Ps: Nice people make the world go round and I love them. Paternalist saviour types turn my stomach. There is a difference.
      Thanks for reading.

  6. Great article. I have been rooting for Woodwynn from the beginning and continue to be a supporter. Though you do make some good points that I never would have considered. Still, in the end, I think it’s probably best to support the efforts of anyone trying to do something to help, even if it’s not the perfect solution.

  7. I think your “ego” is getting in the way and you are missing the whole point of what EVERYONE at Woodwyn Farms is trying to do. I get that its not going to fit everyone’s needs, and I am sure there are going to be some glitches and things people don’t like along the way. But that goes for everyone’s good intentions!………even yours……… If you don’t like what’s going on there, focus on how your going to make a difference instead of judging others for the way they are actually making a difference.
    I would think it takes up plenty of time replying to comments left on your blog so you don’t have to bother replying to my comment. Please use this time instead to go out into the world and do some good.

  8. I love what Richard LeBlanc and Woodwynn Farms are trying to do. It might not be everything that is needed but it is a fantastic start and it will evolve over time.
    As we all know, it is easy to tear things down and find fault but it is not easy to build something.
    Woordwynn Farms is built on the beauty of caring and at least makes an effort to offer those who would like a chance to find some time to think about their lives. It is not meant to be for everyone.
    I am convinced that it is worth a try. It has my full support and I congratulate all those who have embraced this project.
    Thank you.

  9. It might work fine with the four carefully chosen people there now, but it would be madness to lodge 100 homeless up there. I’ve heard that prison is the easiest place to buy drugs – how long before drugs find their way up West Saanich Rd? The sad fact is that many people are homeless for a reason.

    I’ve been a landlord for 25 years, and the one thing
    I’ve learned is that tenants who have too much time on their hands usually get into trouble, whether it’s drugs and alcohol, or fighting with neighbors or other tenants.

    I have a suggestion for the provincial government to reduce homelessness. Reduce the minimum wage to $5 an hour for physically and mentally able- bodied adults who have been on public assistance for 6 months or longer. Make working at least 30 hours a week a requirement for continued assistance.. Deduct 50% of their salary from their monthly assistance cheque. Give the deducted 50% to the employers who provide employment to those on assistance. Let the $5 rate expire after two years of continuous employment.

    In the unlikely event that they cannot find employment at $5 an hour, require them to put in the same amount of time for a non profit organization.

    A smart person once said;

    “If you want to kill someone, pay them NOT to work.”

  10. Hello
    After reading the article and all the posts I found myself a bit sad.
    10years ago I walked in to a detox,
    A lost and broken soul, I had spent the previous 18 years as a street kid and then become over time a homeless junky.
    The power of change starts with the belief it can happen, but in order for this transformation to take place, one needs love.
    Every human has this in then to give and receive, I work hard on a Daily basis to remind myself that this true. even when I fail to see it in the actions of others around me in moment to moment life.
    My point is it doesn’t need to be a big act, just a change in attitude towards other humans.
    Drop expectation, be giving Out of selflessness.
    I remind myself all the time that the journey is the reward, and I can’t make changes if I think I’m perfect.

    Friendly

    • Well said Friendy. : )
      The more Light & Love we put into the world, the more likely things will change.
      Love changes the world………..Not opinions

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