IHO Site: Lookout Emergency Aid Society
Overview: The Lookout Society is a non-profit charitable organization working to provide non-judgmental, non-sectarian and flexible services to “hard-to-house” adults coping with challenges such as substance abuse, mental and physical handicaps, chronic health problems, and legal problems. Established in 1971, Lookout has expanded over the years to provide a range of services and housing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to adults who are destitute and require assistance.
IHO Site Supervisor: Ron Carten, Downtown Residential Program Co-ordinator
Q: What is your background?
A: “I have a degree in social work from the University of Victoria. I’ve worked in mental health and housing. I came to the Lookout Society in 2001 as a frontline worker and now I’m in an administrative role.”
Q: What is your mandate as the Fund Development Coordinator and IHO Site Supervisor at Lookout?
A: “We house adult men and women who are traditionally seen as hard to house in the Downtown Eastside.”
Q: Describe your typical day at Lookout.
A: “I get in, check my phone messages, and go through all the emails I get. I look at my to-do list and set up a list of things for the day which may include organizing fire drills, doing staff investigations, organizing life skills workers, checking up on how our computer systems are being used, and assisting frontline workers with anything they might need in their work.”
Q: What are some challenges that you face at Lookout?
A: “There are so many homeless. Lookout houses the homeless, but there are over 2,000 homeless in Vancouver. There are not enough beds or residences to house those people.”
Q: What are some challenges that the local community faces?
A: “The big challenge that the local community faces is poverty. The Downtown Eastside is known as the poorest postal code in Canada. Other problems that arise from that poverty include substance abuse issues, homelessness, and crime issues. The community also faces a growing threat from the gentrification of the neighbourhood, developers coming in to traditionally low-rent areas of the neighbourhood and building accommodations that are far too expensive for the local population.”
Q: What successes have you had in addressing challenges at Lookout and in the local community?
A: “I think the growth of Lookout is indicative of the need for our services, and some of our successes include cooperating with government to open new housing facilities. In addition, Lookout has successfully partnered with private landlords who run SRO (Single Room Occupany) hotels in the neighbourhood. That partnership has meant that Lookout provides frontline staff to support tenants in those private hotels in meeting their needs for health care, budgeting, food, and nutrition.”
Q: What has been your experience working with VCN?
A: “It’s been good. The interns have been enthusiastic, cooperative and responsible. I think the tenants who have benefited from the support of the interns are very happy with the work the interns have been doing.”
Q: How can a VCN intern help to address challenges at Lookout and in the local community?
A: “Because poverty is such an issue, access to information and communication technologies is difficult for members in our community. The interns provide support in teaching people Internet skills such as web surfing and email, and those skills allow participants in our programs to reach out to their family members, to participate in job searches, and to identify supports and resources in the community on the Internet that they might need to access.”
Q: What advice would you give to a VCN intern beginning work at Lookout?
A: “Be open to people, be accepting of difference, understand that most of our tenants in our buildings are struggling against various forms of oppression; societal prejudice, bureaucratic entanglements, poverty and poor health.”
Q: What do you believe a VCN intern could take away from working at Lookout?
A: “I think the intern would see a different side of our society, and the intern will meet a lot of interesting people who’ve led interesting lives, people who have learned to survive with less and against great odds.”
Q: What has been one of your most memorable experiences working at Lookout?
“I think the experiences that I have the best memories of include working at the Jim Green residence. The residence was built in 1996 as a purpose-built social housing facility. It was named after Jim Green, a former city counselor and activist in the Downtown Eastside. I was proud to work there, met some great people and was able to engage with the tenants in the building in really interesting ways.”
Q: What is one little-known fact about Lookout?
A: “Lookout’s harm reduction philosophy is not that well-known. Harm reduction involves supporting people’s health and safety when they engage in risky behaviours, such as substance abuse, sex trade, that sort of thing. Harm reduction also includes meeting people’s nutritional needs, getting them basic housing, engaging people who are on the fringes of society. We bring these people into our system of supports so that they can recover and rebuild their lives.”
Q: What can someone who is interested in getting involved at Lookout do to help?
A: “They could support some of Lookout’s charitable events, they could give a charitable donation, or they could write to their MLA or MP about the need for adequate housing for the homeless.