This post is part of our series on the winning charities from the 2016 Aviva Community Fund and is provided by Jennie Orton from First United Church Community Ministry Society. This multi-part blog series features the stories behind the charities who won the 2016 Aviva Community Fund contest and the impact they will make with each project across Canada.
When Mary found herself on a slippery slope dealing with housing issues after experiencing health challenges which forced her to leave her job.
After selling her car, pawning her jewelry and spending her savings on rent, she was out of options. With her remaining belongings stored in a friend’s garage, Mary was forced to experience life on the street where she slept for days. She was left wondering how this had happened to her and where she could possibly go next. Mary and her dog Blake were in search for a place to live, but they hit roadblock after roadblock on their quest to find stable housing. She soon found herself at Carnegie Community Centre calling numbers on their housing list; First United answered her call.
“When you walk into the building, a peace and tranquility hits you,” she recalls when she first entered First United. The next day, over a bowl of what she describes as the best beet soup she ever had, Mary was approached by a First United caseworker. They immediately mobilized and sprang into action to help Mary get back on her feet. It wasn’t long before Mary (and dog Blake!) had a bed in our women’s shelter.
“She took me everywhere,” said Mary who spoke of her caseworker. “She took me to my doctor’s appointment, she took me to Strathcona Mental Health, she took me to welfare, and she was there for the meeting. She gave me the tools to get back on my feet. The work was up to me but I never would’ve known about those things without her help.”
Being present in someone’s time of need and despair with the tools they need to get back on track is what First United values above all else, and now Mary is thriving.
Since forced from her home three years ago, Mary is now in the process of making the transition to stability again. Now in temporary social housing for the next two years until she is able to find a permanent home, Mary is now attending school to complete her high school diploma, she is receiving debt counselling and has also joined the tenant council in her building. Mary has also secured disability assistance and she routinely comes back to First United to visit those who helped her get back on her feet.
“The shelter at First United is so different because there is care,” said Mary. “They sit down with you, they join you for meals. First United is a place that gives hope; you’re not a number, you’re a human being. I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for First United, because they gave me hope. They treated me just like everyone else and that is what I needed.”
We Create Hope When Everything Seems Hopeless
First United Church Community Ministry Society is a low-barrier, full time shelter and drop-in offering vulnerable members of our community in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver with programs putting advocacy, hospitality, housing, healing, and inclusivity at the forefront. For decades, our church has provided a judgment-free haven for those in need of comfort, resources, or just a sense of humanity.
As a low-barrier service provider, our community is one that lives with a great deal of uncertainty and with a high level of urgent daily need. Because of this, we are on the front lines and must be consistent, available, and compassionate every minute of the day. It is our mandate at First United Church to not only assist those in need as quickly as possible, but to also offer a sense of inclusion and humanity, when and where it is needed most. We create hope when all seems hopeless.
At the centre of our mandate and what we do is our reception HUB. Hundreds of people visit the HUB every day to access our services. We provide basics such as clean, dry socks, and toothpaste, and more intensive assistance such as harm reduction supplies and legal advocacy. In addition, we also offer a mail service for those who require a mailing address for important documentation, a messaging service for those who don’t have a personal phone line, case planning for those who seek tools to get back on their feet, and a smiling face at the window to help with any information they may need. The HUB is at the heart of our facility, and without it, we would be unable to provide accessible and urgent care as needed.
New Beginnings at the HUB
At First United, we will soon be undergoing renovations to enable a much more accessible and fluid environment for providing services. It will include a larger reception window, increased interior storage, and the wiring and construction of three private office spaces for more sensitive appointments, such as for case planning and spiritual counselling. With $50,000 in funding secured thanks to the Aviva Community Fund, we can now begin renovations and plan for how renovation activities will affect the delivery of our programs. This project will open us up to many more possibilities and increase our success rate in helping our residents feel more visible, more successful, and ultimately more in touch with their own humanity.
The Aviva Community Fund grant has sparked new beginnings for First United, and we are very excited about our future and the future of people like Mary, who just need access to information, support, and a little empowerment to find their way out of the dark.
To learn more about the First United Church Community Ministry Society, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page. To learn more about other Aviva Community Fund winners, click here.