A Vancouver Island literacy support program for those experiencing homelessness has yielded its first poem.
This month, Dann Denis became the first writer to have his work published on the Word on the Street bulletin board in the window of Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s Well Read Books bookstore in Nanaimo.
Since February, LCVI has been offering its literacy services to those who are isolated, under-housed or experiencing homelessness with the help of a $30,000 social response grant from the City of Nanaimo. The bulletin board is part of that initiative.
“We were already going into shelters and providing literacy supports and when we saw that grant come up we thought this was an opportunity, instead of doing that work on the side of our desk, to actually build more of a program in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in this area,” LCVI executive director Samantha Letourneau said.
Actions LCVI have been taking include going to shelters and providing books, leading group poetry writing activities and helping people write and send holiday cards. In September, the Word on the Street bulletin board went up as a way to continue that outreach and stay connected even after COVID-19 restrictions prevented literacy outreach workers from visiting shelters.
The bulletin board includes news and community announcements written in accessible language, jokes, a map of local services and a feature section, which Letourneau described as a place for local artists and writers who may be at risk of or are experiencing homelessness to be creative and share their voice.
Denis is the first to make use of that space. His poem Home: A Lesson Learned is currently on display. According to a LCVI press release, Denis carries a binder full of his poems and has always wanted to have his work published.
“I have the gift to write what I think, feel, see and do,” he said in the release.
Denis is now encouraging others experiencing homelessness to contribute by handing out LCVI’s new Express Yourself booklets, which contain writing and drawing pages, literacy activities and submission forms.
Letourneau said it’s “super encouraging” to see the writings of someone who has benefited from LCVI outreach appear on the bulletin board.
“A lot of individuals who are isolated or under-housed or have faced homelessness, these are also people who are part of the community that we live in,” she said. “And so it’s lovely that they feel comfortable and enthusiastic about wanting to share – whether it’s a poem, a story, a piece of art work – that they feel that this is a place where they can express themselves.”
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