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City and First United Church Program Allows Homeless to Store Belongings

A facility at First United Church is proving to be a popular place for the temporary storage of carts and personal belongings, something residents of the Downtown Eastside say is critical to shelter use.

"We know from the success of our shelters that having a place to store belongings is key to helping people get off the street," said Mayor Robertson. "I'm proud that the City is partnering with First United Church to make this program possible, and I want to thank them for continuing to take a leadership role in the Downtown Eastside community."

The storage facility, which will run for six months with the support of $42,000 from the City, opened this year on October 20 and is located in the Downtown Eastside at 320 East Hastings Street.  Storage exists for 30 carts and 150 storage totes on a time-limited basis. Staff and volunteers from First United Church are on hand 10 hours each day to help store belongings. Information about use is being collected and will be assessed to determine whether additional programs are considered.

“We’ve had a great response to this service and are already running at capacity,” said Don Evans, the Director of Administration at First United Church. “Clearly, more of these kinds of programs are needed to reduce barriers to the homeless as we wait for permanent social housing to come on stream.”

Homeless people with shopping carts have faced many barriers, and fewer than half report being able to store belongings. This project will assist the homeless get to medical appointments and other supportive services, look for housing and work, and connect with services including showers, food and more. Some homeless people report that they have avoided police and outreach workers out of fear they may lose their belongings.

An August 4, 2009 coroner's report into the death of Dawn Bergman, who died on Dec. 19, 2008, says Ms. Bergman turned down police offers of help because she was reluctant to risk losing the cart that carried her belongings. The report recommends that during winter months the City of Vancouver establish programs where homeless people can secure their carts and personal effects.

Of the 14 provincially-funded year-round shelters in Vancouver, eight accept carts. Seven sites that can be opened during an Extreme Weather Response Alert also accept carts. In addition, the three City-opened Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) shelters accommodate carts.

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