Homelessness Action Week: The Hello Neighbour Project

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In recognition of Homelessness Action Week October 11 to October 17, Vancity Buzz will be featuring profiles and interviews with former residents of the Downtown East Side, organizations trying to make a difference, and the history of one of Vancouver’s most notorious neighbourhoods.

This series is presented in partnership with the Union Gospel Mission, which offers support, programs, and resources for people looking to overcome their addictions, re-enter the work force, and take back control of their lives.

On Saturday, October 17, 2015 UGM invites you to learn about the DTES community through the Hello Neighbour Project, which offers neighbourhood walks and a community event at Oppenheimer Park. For more info visit www.ugm.ca/haw

More information on the Union Gospel Mission can be found online.


The Hello Neighbour Project

Get an up-close-and-personal look at one of Vancouver’s most vibrant, notorious, and historically rich neighbourhoods with the Hello Neighbour Project October 17.

This year marks the first incarnation of the Hello Neighbour Project. With music, food, arts, crafts, and games, the event is an opportunity for the people of Vancouver to mingle and meet each other, and maybe learn something new.

“You’re probably not going to get a best friend out it – but you might. You’re probably not going to share your life story – but you might,” says Keela Keeping, Project Coordinator the Hello Neighbour Project. “But you might play a game with someone, you might have a talk with someone, you might listen and learn a bit more.”

At Oppenheimer Park, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., there will be two tents – one for the First Nations community and one of the Chinese community. Elders will be on site, sharing their experiences, their history, and their perspective on the DTES.

“We just felt like that was really respectful to the communities that were here,” says Keeping. “[On the walks] we rush around to all these different points, because we can’t hit everything on the walk. To blow through the First Nations history, and say a couple things, it’s not enough. To just get a chance to relax, and sit, and listen I think will be extremely helpful for people.”

Oppenheimer Park is the starting and ending point of the annual UGM DTES walking tours. Lead by former residents of the Downtown Eastside and graduates of the UGM’s Alcohol & Drug recovery program, the walks are split into the western and eastern portions of the DTES, and offer a first-hand look from the people that call it home.

“When people think of the Downtown Eastside, they think of the Hastings Corridor, they saw people struggling on the street, and that’s all they think of,” says Keeping. “So when they think of a tour of the Downtown Eastside, or a walk around, they think you’re just going to look at all these people, and that’s the complete opposite of what is it, and why we’re doing this.”

Keela explains that despite the narrow view many have of the DTES, the 16-square-blocks of the neighbourhood – including Gastown and Oppenheimer Park – contain a rich history, a vibrant arts scene, and some of the more inspiring figures in the city.

“There are people that are struggling, but there are people that have been there, but are now guides,” says Keeping. “They’re on a track that they want to be on. They have their life in the control that they want to have, they can take care of themselves, and they’re contributing to society.”

By meeting, learning about, and interacting with people who are struggling and have overcome their circumstances, Keeping says a bond is built, and understanding is the result. She says many disregard homeless people, letting them fade in their minds.

“Doing these walks, as soon as you meet someone, it’s hard to consider them not human anymore,” says Keeping. “You have empathy of compassion, you realize they exist. The feedback we’ve gotten from these walks, people are blown away.”

Taking part in the walks requires sign-up ahead of time, but the Hello Neighbour Project is open to all. Sign up for the walks can be done online.

Save On Meats will be on-site, preparing and distributing thousands of meals to visitors, and there will be tents with music, arts, crafts, and information. Everyone is invited, and Keeping says while it’s uncertain whether or not people will interact and be willing to meet with and talk to someone new, she has high hopes.

“It goes a long way, even just showing up,” she says. “Just hanging out with people, for even an hour, two hours, it changes you.”

The Hello Neighbour Project

When: Saturday, October 17; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Oppenheimer Park – Powell Street and Dunlevy Street, Vancouver

Price: Free

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Shawn O'Hara Shawn is a Staff Writer at Vancity Buzz. He loves writing about news, arts, movies, comedy, and culture. Some would argue Shawn is too old to still play Dungeons & Dragons. Shawn would disagree.

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