Homelessness Action Week: Event breaks down stereotypes in the DTES

‘The Hello Neighbour Project’ pulls participants out of their comfort zone on Saturday October 17th, guided by locals through the richness and complexity of the Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver, BC—Raised in foster care, a child of alcoholic parents and residential school survivors, 47-year-old Loretta John is no stranger to pain. But after overcoming alcoholism, addiction, homelessness and poverty, and after enduring decades of back-breaking labour work, Loretta is also no stranger to victory.  Six years clean and sober, she now works as a Security Outreach Worker with Mission Possible while she raises her granddaughter in a safe and loving environment. Loretta is just one of 20 community guides whose expertise and support of the Downtown Eastside community is helping bring The Hello Neighbour Project to life on Saturday, October 17, 2015.

The project is Union Gospel Mission’s contribution to Homelessness Action Week, thanks in part to a grant from the City of Vancouver. Throughout the day, guides like Loretta will lead participants through the neighbourhood, highlighting the historical, environmental and social events that make the Downtown Eastside what it is today.

Derek Weiss, UGM’s Manager of Community Engagement, explains the purpose behind the walks and The Hello Neighbour Project: “By introducing the wider community to positive programs, contextualized issues and most importantly to the incredible people that live in the neighbourhood, our hope is to build a bridge of understanding, compassion and respect between those living in the Downtown Eastside and those living elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.”

The walks are only a part of the project. The main experience is at Oppenheimer Park throughout the day (10AM – 6PM), inviting those who live outside the community to join the DTES community with the aim of inspiring everyone to come together and get to know their neighbour.

Tents will be set up where groups can play games or sports, jam on instruments, create art projects, or watch the exhibition soccer game featuring the Vancouver Street Soccer League (11am – 2pm).  Two tents will also offer a very special opportunity for cultural exchange. At one tent, participants will learn from a First Nations elder. At the other, participants will learn from the Chinese community.  During the morning Kim Washburn, carver of the Oppenheimer totem pole, will also be sharing at the First Nations tent. Throughout the day, food will be provided thanks to the generosity of Save on Meats and A Better Life Foundation.

“I’m so proud to be part of something that shows the Downtown Eastside is about more than drugs and drinking,” says Loretta. “There’s an incredible community and strength here you don’t see in other places. Many people just pass through, some hand out a sandwich and leave; but those who spend time being here see a different, beautiful side.”

Loretta is First Nations from Prince George and the Carrier Nation. Last month she hit a major milestone when she got herself off welfare for the first time.


What:           The Hello Neighbour Project
Where:         Oppenheimer Park (Jackson and Powell)
Date:             Saturday October 17, 2015
Time:            10:00AM to 6:00PM
Why :            To build contextual awareness and breakdown negative stereotypes during
Homelessness Action Week
Cost:             None (Thanks to the City of Vancouver, A Better Life Foundation + UGM)
Who:             All are welcome
Contact:       haw@ugm.ca (604) 215-5445 ext. 346
Guided Walk sign-up: www.ugm.ca/haw

*Space for walks is limited. Sign-up in advance to avoid disappointment. All other park activities are drop-in. While children will not be turned away, because of the nature of some issues, this is an adult-focused event. See www.ugm.ca/haw for more info.


Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, and children for 75 years. Through its locations in Metro Vancouver, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To find out more, visit www.ugm.ca.


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