Over the past two weeks, I have had the honour of meeting Dossier’s new neighbours and celebrating their transition into brand new homes. I have been able to experience the joy, emotion and chaos that comes along with settling into a new home. You might know what I mean if you have ever been to a housewarming party or welcomed new people into your neighbourhood with a wave hello, an apple pie or friendly small talk.
The only difference is that I was saying hello to people who were not moving from one home to another. Instead, they were moving from the street, the luckier ones from shelters or other forms of social housing.
Our office is located in Railtown, a design district known to be one of Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhoods. On our side of the street is fashion studios, architects, design agencies, creative professionals and entrepreneurs. In contrast, the other side of the street is lined with social housing and social services that cater to some of Canada’s poorest residents. When we saw a new building under construction for the ‘hardest to house’, we decided to see how we might embrace this diversity on the two sides of the street and help bridge a significant communication gap between the two groups.
Thirteen hundred people applied to live in this new building, narrowing that number down to 139 required the individuals to be evaluated based on their level of vulnerability.
It began with rallying our neighbours to contribute to a welcome package for each of the 139 residents. In short order, $2400 was raised and much more in kind, from JJ Bean Coffee, Aritzia, Greystone Publishing, Image Group Inc. and Save On Meats.
Now that the move-in is under way, after a few months of delayed construction, we have welcomed 30 of the 100 residents that have moved in thus far. Something I had not quite grasped earlier in this project was just how incredibly unique and special it has been to celebrate with folks in the throes, who are experiencing a very emotional time in their lives. They have received us with warmth and gratitude, many of them chatting and sharing with us their excitement over their new home, and their hopes and dreams to work, play music, buy a flat screen TV, read eBooks and go sailing in Vancouver’s harbour.
Herb, a delightful and talkative 68-year-old man from Quesnel, told us about his 6 children, including his blind son, his many grandchildren and even a great grandchild. Herb was excited to unpack his blender and shared with us his secret of using pork & beans to sweeten smoothies. Dennis, a charming Morgan Freeman look-alike, is a jazz drummer who has been trying to get into social housing for decades. He proudly invited us to come and visit him for coffee in his suite on the top floor. After greeting Terry and giving him his welcome package, he quickly returned with two baby bunnies for us to cuddle with. Big smiles broke out everywhere.
There have been understandably anxious and sad emotions witnessed too, many of the folks have been uprooted out of the Bosman Hotel, for some the only home they have ever known. But for the most part, it has been a warm and welcoming celebration.
For PHS Community Services, who is managing the building, they have seen it as an incredibly positive surprise to have business neighbours help break the ice in what can typically be a tense neighbourhood situation. The residents, many of whom are well aware of NIMBYism (not in my backyard), were delightfully surprised and touched by the genuineness of our welcoming to this vibrant neighbourhood of ours. And from our side of the street, many of us have been surprised by our emotional responses and despite our differences, the realization of what we have in common.
You can also read an article about the gathering from The Globe and Mail.