Housing Vancouver's Homeless is a Team Effort

Benita Ho knows East Vancouver. She knows all about the vast need for housing. She also knows housing is only part of the solution for women struggling to get off the street and care for their children.

Benita has been working at YWCA Crabtree Corner Family Resource Centre for more than 11 years. She started as a support worker and worked her way into the role of Housing Manager. 

"I've known this neighbourhood for most of my life," says Benita. "The roots of east Vancouver are in three different ethnic backgrounds: Aboriginal, Chinese and Japanese. I'm part of that legacy. I work with a team who cares for the folks who live here and we are committed to the advocacy for their deservedness."

Crabtree Corner provides programs and services for families who need them the most. Located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s most impoverished neighbourhoods, Crabtree helps women and their families improve the quality of their lives.

Started in 1984, Crabtree Corner’s support programs include 12 units of transitional housing for pregnant or parenting women committed to recovering from addictions; an Early Learning and Care Centre for children; hot meal programs; Food, Facts and Fun! Nutrition Education Program; Saturday Family Activity Program; Nobody’s Perfect Parenting Program; Community Action Program for Children; Single Mothers’ Support Group; Books, Bags and Babies; Violence Prevention Program; Aboriginal Infant Development Program; Intergenerational FASD Support Group; and FASD Key Support Worker. Originally located at Columbia and Cordova, Crabtree has called 533 East Hastings Street home since 2003.

Classic LifeCare regularly volunteers at Crabtree, sponsors several lunches each year for the lunch program, makes an annual financial contribution and runs clothing and toiletry drives.

Chantelle Krish, Associate Director of Communications and advocacy for the YWCA, says Crabtree offers a non-judgmental environment where women can be acknowledged and validated for who they are.

"Crabtree has a client-centered approach so when a woman comes here, she comes up with a plan and sets her own goals. We are simply here to offer support and a safe place for her to achieve her goals."

Benita says the need for housing is far from being met, however, every residence helps. Especially in a city like Vancouver, where housing and rent costs are through the roof, affordable options are detrimental in keeping people out of shelters and off the street.

"Imagine being a single mom and all the challenges that come with that responsibility," said Benita, during an interview at Crabtree Corner. "Now imagine being a single mom from a history of abuse who's battling addiction to heroin. Some women are up against enormous obstacles. To give you an idea of the financial struggle, a single mom on social assistance with two children gets $660/month for rent. She gets just under $1,000 for all other costs. So she will often use some of that money to supplement rent, which doesn't leave much to spend on food and supplies."

She says you basically have to be an "urban hunter" to get by, accessing food banks and other services for free supplies. Getting a room in a place like Crabtree or one of the YCWA's other housing options and building a better life comes down to timing and opportunity.

From Crabtree, women may transition to another YWCA housing option like Cause We Care House which will be located just a few blocks away from Crabtree and is set to open next summer. To read more about this housing initiative and others, and to make a financial donation to the YWCA’s newest housing communities, YWCA Fire Hall Housing in Champlain Heights and the North Vancouver housing initiative, please visit http://ywcavan.org/programs/affordable-housing/new-housing-initiatives. You can also contact Natasha Krotez at nkrotez@ywcavan.org or 604-895-5789.

Benita speaks of a particular story of resilience and courage. A woman she knew for many years, who was dealing drugs and lost custody of her first son to his father, who she was no longer with.

"She was really entrenched in that lifestyle, sort of a Queen of Hastings."

The woman had gotten clean several times but always went back to drugs. When she had her third child, she came to Benita for help from Crabtree Corner.

"I asked her, 'What's going to be different for you this time?'"

Again, it came down to timing and opportunity. The woman was ready to make a change. She got clean, reconnected with her older children and her ex-spouse. She now works as a Housing Support Worker helping others struggling for a better life.

"I have a strong belief everyone deserves a chance. Success can mean many things," says Benita. "Every day, something rewarding happens, and that gets us working here through the hard times with people."

Classic LifeCare is a regular supporter of YWCA Metro Vancouver, which helps women and children achieve economic independence, wellness and equal opportunities.