A Bit About The Neighborhood We Call Home
Located on the ocean and bordered by snow-capped mountains to the north, Vancouver is one of the world's most beautiful cities. As Canada's gateway to the Pacific Rim, Vancouver has become increasingly ethnically diverse and Asians now constitute 40% of the population.
The area known as Downtown Eastside is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver and the poorest in all of Canada. The Downtown Eastside is an inner city neighbourhood, with disadvantaged and displaced populations, high occurrences of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, and a relatively high crime rate. However, the neighbourhood has a rich and colourful history, diverse culture and a strong fabric of community.
Fuelled by cheap, potent and available heroin and cocaine, including crack cocaine, and - increasingly - crystal methamphetamine, the Downtown Eastside's drug scene has exploded over the past decade. Drug dealing now takes place in full public view - as do the drug overdoses. Vancouver averages about 150 illicit drug overdose deaths per year. Most of these in Downtown Eastside.
The Downtown Eastside has the highest rate of HIV infection in the Western world, largely attributable to the sharing of infected needles by intravenous drug users. Hundreds of people have contracted HIV and hepatitis C from injection drug use. In fact, injection drug use is responsible for half of new HIV infections and 80% of newly identified hepatitis C cases.
Downtown Eastside is the third most densely populated place in North America. In 1999, the City Council declared homelessness a national disaster. It is estimated that more than 1200 people are homeless on the streets of Downtown Eastside on any given night. First Nations people are disproportionately represented and it is estimated that at least two-thirds of those on the streets suffer severe addictions to drugs and/or alcohol.
Examples of ministries we started
Our evening meals on Tuesdays and Fridays are times when friends we know from the neighbourhood are invited to join us for fellowship and family. Often we will have up to a dozen or more guests for dinner and we encourage everyone to pitch in and help with cooking and cleaning up afterwards. It is a great way to get to know people and offer them a peaceful, family-oriented space away from the chaos of the streets.
Some of the women on the team spend the time from Wednesday nights meeting women where they work and inviting those that are willing back to the Servants space for some tea, talking and friendship. We are also eager to move forward in different ways to invite women into relationships eg preparing a Woman's only dinner before most of the women go out to work, in hopes that it may be a way of breaking into some of their daily routine.
In early 2009, we initiated a community garden in an unused parking lot on our block. Neighbours and local groups quickly got involved and now there is now a daily flow of people hanging out, watering the garden and tending to the plants. The garden has been another good way of building relationships and a number of our contacts there have joined us for meals and become friends.
Creative World Justice:
Combining worship, prayer and creativity with justice and activism, we have been meeting on Tuesday nights with folks from the neighbourhood and beyond to plan holy mischief and learn about God's heart for the poor. Contact us if you would like to come along to one of these meetings.
At our 450 E Hastings space, we encourage team members who like to do art to invite friends from the neighborhood to the CAVE (Caring Artists Vivifying Existence) space, where art is being used as a means to encourage the healing process of people through the creation of visual art.
Servants Canada Office:
Some of us are involved in the international leadership, advocacy or administration of the wider Servants body. This overlaps a bit with the training of preparers that we commit to as a community. Our office is located on the same block and is used for a range of activities for Servants.
3 Ways To Join Us
The Servants Vancouver Team is a community committed to practising the radical welcome of Christ. Recognizing that those who want to journey with us have different needs and expectations, we have identified 3 main types of people who we welcome to spend time living and participating in our community life and ministry:
Firstly, we practice radical hospitality for guests who will usually spend anything from a couple of days up to 2 weeks living with us. These may be homeless friends from the street, those considering an internship or simply people interested in knowing more about Servants.
Internships will usually be for 1, 3, 6 or 12 months. Interns participate fully in the life of our community, complete readings and assignments, volunteer at local ministries and meet weekly with a mentor from the team.
3. Team Members:
Most of our team members work part-time in a paid job (preferably in the Downtown Eastside) or go to school part-time, but intentionally free up some of their time to participate in community life and Servants ministry. Some of our team members have raised financial support in order to work part-time for the Servants Canada office.
We are currently looking for people to join us! Contact us if you are interested in finding out more about the team or volunteering some of your time in the Vancouver office or another North American city to help us see the urban poor and their communities transformed by Christ.