How Vancouver’s First United centres Indigenous healing
The organization emphasizes Indigenous leadership and creates a safe space for Indigenous community members
to just be themselves.
~ by Nancy Painter, February 11, 2022
This article first appeared in Broadview’s March 2022 issue with the title “Safe Space”.
About 2.5 percent of Vancouver’s population is Indigenous. But in the Downtown East Side (DTES) — where residents face challenges including poverty, mental health issues, addictions, the ongoing opioid crisis and homelessness driven by a lack of affordable and safe housing — the numbers are much higher. Up to 40 percent of area residents and up to 60 percent of those seeking spiritual care at the First United Church Community Ministry Society are Indigenous.
When Carmen Lansdowne, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, became First United’s executive director five years ago, she wanted to make their needs a priority. “Because Indigenous people are the most marginalized here, we need to centre their experience in our planning,” she says. “We’re unapologetic about that.” At the heart of this effort is an Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused spiritual care team, of which she is one member. The spiritual team’s work emanates throughout the entire culture of First United and makes this a safe space for Indigenous people.
First United has a long history of commitment to social service here. It has been an active presence since its establishment as First Presbyterian Church in 1885, evolving from a pioneer congregation to city mission to its current combination of service provision and advocacy.
Today, it operates a 60-bed transitional shelter (with capacity reduced to 40 during COVID-19), and through its sister organization, First United Church Social Housing Society, manages 189 units of affordable housing. Over the years, First United has worked to meet the evolving needs of its community.
It’s always a busy place. Three hundred people get their mail here, and countless others rely on it for a place to take a shower, use the phone, consult with an advocacy worker or get their income tax return done. Community members may come to lounge in the drop-in area, attend Spirit Circle, get a meal, pick up harm-reduction supplies or get out of the rain.
Continue reading the article here.