For over 135 years, FIRST UNITED has meaningfully engaged with its community and neighbours in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), in the face of extreme poverty, historical and personal trauma, mental illness and oppression. Today, FIRST UNITED envisions a neighbourhood where every person’s worth is celebrated, and all people thrive—and it needs your help.
FIRST UNITED launched a project in 2017 to redevelop its site at 320 East Hastings into a multi-storey, purpose-built space that will offer four floors of programs and services operated by FIRST, and over 100 units of below-market rental housing for Indigenous Peoples operated by Lu’ma Native Housing Society.
“The total cost of the project is $65 million,” says FIRST UNITED Executive Director, Carmen Lansdowne. “Our portion is $30 million, and we’ve already raised over 70 percent of that. With the launch of our First Forward capital campaign, we’re excited to invite more of the Greater Vancouver public to join us to move FIRST forward and help us do this incredible work.”
The new 40,000-square-foot FIRST UNITED will include two drop-in spaces, a commercial kitchen and dining area, legal advocacy and tax program spaces, multipurpose spaces, public showers, a day sleeping room, an interfaith sacred space, outdoor decks, a computer lab and administrative offices. The project breaks ground in early 2022, with the new building expected to open in 2024. During construction, FIRST UNITED services will be relocated to nearby satellite locations.
FIRST’s responsive services support thousands of DTES residents each year. Its current facility, a church built in the 1960s, is known as “the church of the open door” for its inclusive, low-barrier approach.
Last winter, FIRST UNITED community members Angelo and Sandy, and their dog, Kale, were living in a tent in East Vancouver. They’d struggled with their previous landlord and a lack of housing options.
“We both had pneumonia,” Angelo says. “When it rained, we were damp all the time. And when night comes, it gets real cold. When we found FIRST UNITED, it was an absolute blessing. Without their help, I don’t know if we’d still be here.”
FIRST UNITED helped Angelo, Sandy and Kale to find shelter, and provided them with hot showers, fresh supplies, and three meals a day. They also helped connect Angelo and Sandy to medical care and, six months later, housing.
“We have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge,” Angelo says. “We’re happy. If you can see it in your heart to give, you should know that your help could change somebody’s life. I know it changed mine.”
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