Downtown Eastside supported through skills training, employment

DOWNTOWN Eastside (DTES) residents will use their knowledge of the community, while gaining valuable skills and paid work experience to support their fellow residents, though $200,000 from the Canada-BC Workforce Development Agreement.

Known as “peers”, these resident trainees will benefit from a new grassroots approach to peer support.

“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, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, on Tuesday. “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. 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.”

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 Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (EMBERS) delivers a variety of skills training for employment programs in the DTES and will work with several DTES peer network organizations that have been successful in the pilot to identify peers who could be included in the project.

“Peers helping peers is a way to create employment for people who do not fit mainstream jobs. 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,” said Marcia Nozick, CEO of EMBERS. “Peer employment 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.”

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. 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.

Quick Facts:

* Peers were first identified and trained through a pilot project funded by the City of Vancouver and co-ordinated by the Community Impact Real Estate Society, working with more than 40 DTES charities and not-for-profit organizations.

* Peer support workers have shared life experiences, culture, identities and perspectives on mental health, substance use, homelessness, poverty, sex work and intergenerational trauma. Peers can provide safe, welcoming and more culturally responsive supports to vulnerable DTES residents.

* EMBERS is a social enterprise and registered community economic development charity located in the DTES.