For over a year our staff and board, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the broader community have worked tirelessly to support our neighbours in the Downtown Eastside through the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite nearly 700,000 vaccinations having been administered throughout BC by March 29th, we continue to see an alarming rise in case counts.
We want to provide our community with an update on our work, and reiterate that First United remains steadfastly committed to protecting our staff and the community members who access our programs and services.
Programs and Services
Early in the pandemic, we transitioned as many of our programs as possible to COVID-safe models. Thanks to the diligence and creativity of our staff, we have not closed any of our essential programs or services. We have and continue to adjust how we offer the following services to the community while minimizing risk:
Our emergency shelter capacity is limited to 45 (down from 60) to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Our shelter also includes isolation space for shelter residents who become symptomatic. To date, none of our shelter residents have contracted COVID-19 while staying with us. Given the press conference by the Government on Monday, March 29, we have added more intense daily screening and resumed temperature checks with residents.
Hot meals are served “to-go” through a service window installed at the front of our building on East Hastings Street. Community members are still able to access nutritious and hearty meals when they need, while minimizing indoor congestion and complying with VCH food-service regulations.
Community Help Desk and Mail
The Help Desk has been transitioned to operate through a service window installed at the front of our building on East Hastings Street. Community members can stop by anytime day or night to request information, toiletries and hygiene products, water, harm reduction supplies, socks and underwear, pet food and other sundries. Our Keep Connected program, in which community members can use First United as a mailing address, continues to operate through the service window.
Our tax clinic continues to support low-income individuals accessing benefits related to housing, pensions, and other assistance programs. During COVID-19, these benefits and services have become even more important. The tax clinic continues to run safely in-person with precautions in place, and with support via email.
First United’s legal advocacy has shifted to remote intake via phone and email for those who are able to do so. In emergency or urgent cases such as eviction or loss of income, our advocates offer COVID-safe in-person meetings, on a case-by-case basis. Over the coming weeks, we will remain diligent about limiting in-person services as much as possible.
Ministry and Spiritual Care
We’ve been unable to offer group ministry, memorials, and spiritual-care services in compliance with ongoing public health orders since the beginning of the pandemic. However, our ministry staff have been working virtually with partners to offer spiritual care and activities where possible to the larger faith community and have safely engaged with shelter residents when needed.
Downtown Eastside Vaccinations
Residents of the Downtown Eastside have been prioritized for vaccinations, which have been ongoing in the community since January. We have been working with Vancouver Coastal Health to disseminate information to community members as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure that those who live in the DTES can access clinics when they happen.
First United employs 90 people in a variety of roles ranging from frontline to administration, over a variety of worksites. Ensuring that our staff have the tools, resources, and supports they need to stay healthy and carry out their work is one of our top priorities.
A high percentage of our staff have received at least a first dose of vaccination and continue to be supplied with appropriate PPE for their roles including masks, gloves, and face shields/protective eyewear. Staff who can work remotely are encouraged to do, in keeping with the most recent variance to public health orders, and our leadership team continues to support their staff to work from home and provide appropriate tools and technology to do so.
The events of the past twelve months have weighed heavy on us all, and it’s frightening to be witnessing a surge of this magnitude at this point. But we know so much more now than we did in March 2020. We know what it takes to protect those within the First United community, and we have seen great success with the measures we’ve taken. Over the coming weeks our leadership will continue to monitor the situation, be in touch with our partners at VCH, and communicate with staff and community members.
Regardless of how things change, we remain committed to providing essential services that our community relies on while protecting the health and safety of our staff, residents, tenants, and broader community.
How to Help
To all who have provided generous gifts in-kind, financial support, and so much more throughout the most challenging year of our lives: thank you. Your generosity is how we’ve been able to weather the storm and adapt every step of the way.
We aren’t in the clear yet, and still worry about the future of our community and how we will meet changing and increasing needs. The most significant way to ensure First United can continue providing essential services tomorrow and beyond is by making a monthly donation. Or, you can make a one-time gift and help us meet the immediate needs of the community.
You can also subscribe to our email communication to receive periodic updates and information about First United and our work.