We recently visited Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver's downtown east side. Founded in 1940, UGM operates three facilities: a downtown headquarters, a nearby women-and-children's center, and a location in suburban New Westminster.
Union Gospel Mission designed its services to help guests get back on their feet. UGM provides:
- Meals. UGM serves more than 320,000 meals annually. The headquarters building serves lunch and dinner 364 days a year. The New Westminster location serves breakfast 5 days a week. Shelter guests in both the headquarters and the women-and-children's building receive 3 meals a day.
- Drop-in services. The Cornerstone offers coffee and connection to outreach workers at various times throughout the day. UGM also provides 24 hours bathrooms.
- Housing. UGM offers 82 night shelter beds for men and 15 stabilization rooms for women and women with children. UGM also provides 81 social housing suites and 61 low-rent suites for families.
- Recovery services. UGM's first- and second-stage addiction recovery programs provide more than 80 people with counseling, housing, and meals.
- Other services. UGM provides clothing and hygiene products two days a week. It employs a full-time career development counselor and offers a computer center. It offers after-school programs and summer camps for children.
We asked Derek Weiss, Community Engagement Manager, to tell us more about Union Gospel Mission's operation.
What part of your program are you proudest of?
Derek: On income assistance cheque issue day (Welfare Wednesday) people have less need of our food service, but many are tempted to use drugs or alcohol. We shut down our lunch program on that day and offer people outings with lunch and either a ride to a grocery store (to spend their cheque on quality food) or fun activities: hikes, mini golf, local sites they may never have gone to, and more. It is so much easier for them to resist the temptation to spend their cheque on harmful behaviours if they have a good alternative!
What part of your program do you most want to improve?
Derek: We’re always trying to divert more of our waste from the landfill. We work with an amazing group called Recycling Alternative to compost our organic waste, but it is always a challenge to keep plates and cutlery from going into the garbage. When the immediate need is so great, it is hard – but critical – to focus on caring for the earth even as we care for other people.
What advice would you offer your peers?
Derek: The core of your operation is good staff or lead volunteers. Build a model for your charity where you can invest in kitchen staff who are compensated fairly and who focus on efficiency, quality, and continuous improvement. When turnover happens, the time you spend recruiting and then retaining high quality staff will be worth it.
What question would you ask peers?
Derek: How are you using technology to improve your processes?
Thanks to Derek and the UGM team. If you'd like to share your answer to Derek's question in the comments below, we'd also love to hear how soup kitchens and food pantries are using technology.