Imagine having to carry your belongings with you at all times. You would not be able to go to a doctor’s appointment or job interview, fill out a housing application, or even use a restroom without risking the loss of all your possessions. That is the reality for people living on the streets.
It’s impossible to fully understand the hardships faced by the city’s homeless population. Some wonder why they struggle to find employment and housing, yet few realize the barriers they face, including carrying their belongings wherever they go. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the First United Church recognized this and developed a storage facility- the only facility of its kind in the Metro Vancouver – that provides 200 units of free storage to homeless people living in the Downtown Eastside.
“Our storage facility is often the first step to getting off the streets,” said Heather Forbes, Communications and Resource Development Coordinator for First United Church. “Having a secure place to keep their belongings gives folks the ability to access services, address their health concerns, seek apartments, and go to work. It is a low cost and truly transformative service for people in need in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”
First United Church opened the facility with initial funding from City of Vancouver in 2009 by converting space within its underground parking garage. Now they are looking to expand through an indiegogo campaign that today raised 100% of their total goal.
“Through the indiegogo campaign, we hope to raise enough funds to run the facility for the first 1-2 months of 2014,” said Heather. “After that, we are seeking new partnerships to help fund the long term operation. Having the first few months of the year covered is a huge help for the facility, and will allow us to focus on establishing long term agreements with individual donors.”
It costs only a dollar a day to operate each of the 200 storage units. The bulk of the operating costs go towards paying decent wages to adults from the Downtown Eastside, who otherwise face immense barriers to employment. The remaining costs are used to cover the heat bill and pest control and maintain the storage bins. According to Heather, if First United raises more money through the campaign, they will put it towards long term operating costs, introducing some energy efficiency upgrades and replacing worn out storage bins.
Of those currently using the storage facility, several have already successfully found employment.
“There are a number of current storage users who, because of the storage faculty, are able to go to regular jobs. They are there in the morning when the gates open to drop off their night stuff and pick up their hard hats and work boots, and then they are back in the afternoon when the workday is over,” said Heather. “I’m just so impressed by their drive. It’s really striking to me when I think about how, without the storage facility, these hard working people wouldn’t be able to act on their drive and work ethic.”
Jillian Glover is a communications advisor who specializes in urban issues and transportation. She is a former Vancouver City Planning Commissioner and holds a Master of Urban Studies degree from Simon Fraser University. She was born and raised in Vancouver and is very interested in how people in urban environments engage in their cities. In her spare time, she writes about urban issues at her blog, This City Life – which you can visit at www.thiscitylife.tumblr.com.