Many of us have walked down Robson Street after a week of hard work and enjoyed the fruits of our labour. In the shadows, there is often someone sitting alone, mustering the courage to say “spare change please sir”. At this point, many of us experience a range of emotions and thoughts, from sympathy to apathy. ,And, like many, I often choose to silo my emotions and concentrate on the finer side of my own life. This was until recently when I worked at a soup kitchen in the heart of our own city. As a new member of DTM Systems, I was a late addition to the party making the trip to volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). This is considered our city’s “Skid Row”, where many are living out their lives in an endless cycle of poverty. This is the world that parents warn their children about, and a world that I had never really experienced.
- The average age for a girl entering the Sex trade here is 14.
The Union Gospel Mission was established in 1940 and their primary mission is to fight poverty through Drug Rehabilitation programs, free meals and other support services. When we arrived, we had a lunch of roast beef with mustard; a meal that surprised many within our group. There was plenty to eat and the food was very good considering the necessary financial prudence that a charity needs to employ. After our meal, our DTM team was given the visitors tour. Walking through the various living quarters and rehab classrooms, we couldn’t help but admire the job that UGM is doing with such limited funds. They certainly did their KYC (Know Your Customer)/marketing, and we were impressed by the high level of professionalism in the management of UGM. Moving along the corridors on our way to the kitchen, we stopped to admire some of the art work done by the residents. I found myself contemplating the variety of reasons one might find themselves in this world.
At this point, we were introduced to a gentleman by the name of John. John is a former addict and graduate of UGM’s Recovery Program and is now employed with the UGM on a full time basis. If there was ever a look of a person who had been to hell and back, it was John. He chose to share some of his life stories with us about his struggles with drug addiction and some of the experiences from his life living on the DTES. I began to deeply admire his determination to rise above what sounded like an endless tunnel of despair. The UGM supports people like John to find the courage and determination to do the hard work of recovering from addiction.
- About 3 Million needles are distributed every year in the DTES
Not knowing if we were about to become Iron Chefs or put on Iron Gloves, Tim Green and I were paired up to mitigate risk of pouring cordial for the lunch serving. As the both of us meticulously set about our duties, people began filing into the cafeteria to wait for lunch. Admittedly, I started observing the different people gathering and immediately noticed that poverty does not differentiate. There were at least 150 people of different demographic backgrounds waiting patiently for lunch, and for many of them, we were told it might be the only proper meal they would have for the day. Keeping in mind that the UGM is only one of dozens of charity kitchens in the area, the magnitude of poverty in our city really began to sink in.
- An Estimated 40% of Homeless People living in the DTES suffer from a mental illness
The lunch serving was baked fish with potato cakes and greens. I was paired with a resident of the UGM to distribute the lunch trays which gave me an opportunity to interact with everyone waiting in line. Before lunch began, we were given a briefing about certain rules that were to be strictly observed. For instance, because of the limited amount of resources that the UGM has, each person waiting for lunch was assigned one ticket to pick up their tray.
- The median household income level in the DTES is 30 % lower than the Vancouver average
The looks on the faces of many of the lunch attendees was humbling. But the lasting image for me was that of a roughly 18 year old kid who was clearly not sober and yet still somehow going through the motions. How did he fall through the cracks? What chance did he have of getting out of his addictions? How can this happen in Canada? What was clear to me was that on a daily basis most of us forget about these hard questions that our society faces, but here at the UGM, they respond to them every day. After lunch, while cleaning the kitchen, I saw the same teenager with his head slumped on one of the dining tables; he was passed out and unaware that he was the last one in the dining hall. Worried for his welfare, we asked a staff member and John about this kid. Would he be okay? “That poor kid is really messed up, let me speak to him” was John’s reply. I really came to admire John, a man who has seen and experienced a lot more than most of us can imagine: a man clearly keen to make a difference. How society could do with more people like John and imagine what the UGM could do with even more support in place. After a few words, the kid suddenly got up and disappeared into the street among so many others like him. And tomorrow, the UGM would open its doors again to feed and support them all.
- The proportion of children under the age of 6 living in poverty in the DTES is 2.5 times higher than the rest of Vancouver
The UGM is able to provide one complete meal for $3.29. As we prepare for our own holiday feasts this season, let us not forget those less fortunate. To make a donation, and support the work of the UGM, and the success stories of people like John, head over to their website donation page.
An avid video gamer and depository of useless facts, Yenwen is one of the newer members of the DTM team. As a Marketing Specialist, Yenwen enjoys communicating with our customers and taking in feedback. Having worked in the Corporate Finance servicing SMEs, Yenwen understands many of the challenges that businesses face and also has a deep understanding of various emerging business needs. He has also served in the Military and understands the importance of real time intelligence and careful planning before execution. Yenwen is also a huge Cricket fan and is shamelessly trying to choose a winning football team to support.