British Columbia

First United Church's homeless storage program competes for $50K

First United Church in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside hopes to beat out competitors from across Canada to win funding for its storage facility for homeless people.

Storage facility allows people to safely store personal items while they look for housing or work

First United Church operates a storage program for Vancouver's homeless people that allows up to 200 users to store their belongings free of charge. (First United Church)

First United Church in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is trying to win $50,000 of funding to continue providing storage to homeless people in the city.

The free service has been running since 2009, and provides up to 200 people with a storage tote which can hold up to 23 kilograms of belongings. People can also bring things in with shopping carts or luggage.

Each user receives a number, and they can continue storing their things at the facility as long as they check in every day, either by phone or in person.

"I think a lot of stuff is personal stuff, letters from your parents or your children and photos and things like that. ID is a big item that gets stored as well," manager of operations Jerri Morrick told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Morrick said the program is paid for through government funding the church receives and personal donations, but it's currently a semi-finalist in a contest for $50,000 of additional funding.

The contest, which is run by Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, sees community-based projects from across the country compete for online votes. Some 120 organizations have reached the semi-final.

Other B.C. organizations competing in the semi-final include Shuswap Performing Arts Centre in Salmon Arm, Nootka Elementary School in Vancouver and Critter Care Wildlife Society, also in Vancouver.

Votes will be tallied on Wednesday and 15 finalists will be selected and judged by a panel.

For the First United Church, winning the competition would mean covering their storage program's operating costs for about a year, most of which goes towards staffing the facility.

Anyone using the church's storage facility gets a number and can keep their belongings at the facility by checking in each day by phone or in person. (First United Church)

"It's challenging. We open at 6 a.m. PT weekdays and we close as late as 8 p.m. every day, just to be able to offer that service to our community," said Morrick.

Morrick said people aren't able to bring their luggage to a job interview, or to bring a shopping cart into the hospital with them, and that the storage facility helps them go about their lives.

"Until you get housing, which can sometimes take a little while, you don't have any place to put your stuff. This is a safe place for you to store your belongings."

To hear more about First United Church's storage program, click the audio called: First United Church's homeless storage program competes for $50,000.


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