The BC government announced today that it is providing $200,000 from the Canada-BC Workforce Development Agreement to help provide training and work experience to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“Community-driven support for the well-being of our most vulnerable residents is one way we are responding to a call to action from advocates and residents in the Downtown Eastside,” said Melanie Mark, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.
Known as “peers,” these resident trainees will benefit from a new “grassroots approach” to peer support, said Mark.
“Our government knows that ‘peers’ are best equipped to use their lived experience and understanding to meet residents where they’re at and link them to the services they need to stay healthy during these unprecedented times,” she added.
Marks said the group of peers will provide support to other members of the DTES community, including services such as physical distancing support on cheque-issue days, information about government supports and other available resources, and sanitation.
“Peer support workers have overcome adversity to build a better life for themselves and their families,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “By developing skills that draw on their lived experience to support people in overcoming those same hardships, they play a valuable role on the front lines of the fight against poverty and homelessness in British Columbia.”
The initiative will be a joint effort between the BC government and The Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (EMBERS).
“By working with a respected grassroots organization like EMBERS, we are building on existing skills training for employment programming and making sure peers have the resources they need to succeed,” said Mark.
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“Peers helping peers is a way to create employment for people who do not fit mainstream jobs,” said Marcia Nozick, CEO of EMBERS. “Peer work recognizes the value of life experience itself, which can be drawn upon to support others who may face similar barriers and life challenges.”
Peer employment, she added, “provides more than income. It builds self-esteem, creates a sense of purpose and gives people skills and work experience that can help move them toward a better future.”
According to Nozick, up to 40 peers will be supported over six months, with the goal of moving them to more permanent training opportunities and employment. Peers will be encouraged and supported to leverage their community experience to empower them to find employment opportunities that resonate with who they are.
EMBERS will also gather valuable community insights of residents to understand the lived experiences of people in the Downtown Eastside.
The province said this will help inform government about other tools needed to support “vulnerable people to stay safe, strengthen community connections and build their capacity for employment readiness.”
It added that the peers involved in this program were first identified and trained through a pilot project funded by the City of Vancouver and coordinated by the Community Impact Real Estate Society, working with more than 40 DTES charities and not-for-profit organizations.