Raised in foster care, a child of alcoholic parents and residential school survivors, 47 year old Loretta John is no stranger to pain. But after overcoming alcoholism, addiction, homelessness and poverty, and after enduring decades of back-breaking labour work, Loretta is also no stranger to victory.
Six years clean and sober, she now works as a security outreach worker with Mission Possible while she raises her granddaughter in a safe and loving environment.
Loretta is just one of 20 community guides whose expertise and support of the Downtown Eastside community is helping bring The Hello Neighbour Project to life next Saturday (October 17).
The project is Union Gospel Mission’s contribution to Homelessness Action Week (October 11 – 17), thanks in part to a grant from the City of Vancouver. Throughout the day, guides like Loretta will lead participants through the neighbourhood, highlighting the historical, environmental and social events that make the Downtown Eastside what it is today.
Derek Weiss, UGM’s manager of community engagement, explains the purpose behind the walks and The Hello Neighbour Project: “By introducing the wider community to positive programs, contextualized issues and most importantly to the incredible people that live in the neighbourhood, our hope is to build a bridge of understanding, compassion and respect between those living in the Downtown Eastside and those living elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.”
The walks are only a part of the project. The main experience is at Oppenheimer Park (northeast of Main and Hastings) throughout the day (10 am – 6 pm), inviting those who live outside the community to join the DTES community with the aim of inspiring everyone to come together and get to know their neighbours.
Tents will be set up where groups can play games or sports, jam on instruments, create art projects, or watch the exhibition soccer game featuring the Vancouver Street Soccer League (11 am – 2 pm).
Two tents will also offer a very special opportunity for cultural exchange. At one tent, participants will learn from a First Nations elder; Kim Washburn, carver of the Oppenheimer totem pole, will be sharing during the morning. At the other, participants will learn from the Chinese community.
Throughout the day, food will be provided thanks to the generosity of Save on Meats and A Better Life Foundation.
“I’m so proud to be part of something that shows the Downtown Eastside is about more than drugs and drinking,” says Loretta. “There’s an incredible community and strength here you don’t see in other places. Many people just pass through, some hand out a sandwich and leave; but those who spend time being here see a different, beautiful side.”
Loretta is First Nations from Prince George and the Carrier Nation. Last month she hit a major milestone when she got herself off welfare for the first time.
For more information, email [email protected] or call 604.215.5445, ext 346.
To sign up for a guided walk, go to www.ugm.ca/haw
(Space for walks is limited. Sign-up in advance to avoid disappointment. All other park activities are drop-in. While children will not be turned away, because of the nature of some issues, this is an adult-focused event.)
For more information about Homelessness Action Week go to the City of Vancouver website.