Pathways closes its doors as new Downtown Eastside employment centre opens
Employment services in the Downtown Eastside will be moving to a different location Monday (April 2), with the opening of a new office on West Hastings Street.
But the operators of a long-time employment service and information centre in the low-income neighbourhood say they’re concerned that as they close their doors, some residents will end up falling through the cracks.
Pathways Information Centre, which has been located at the corner of Main and Hastings Streets for nine years, offered its last day of employment services on Friday (March 30). As of Monday, the service will be offered by Open Door Group, which won a contract with the B.C. government under a new provincial employment program beginning this month.
Tony St-Pierre, an employment counsellor and case manager at Pathways, fears some of the assistance that the centre offered over the years to the Downtown Eastside community won’t be included under the new system.
“We have about 200 people come here everyday, and a good chunk of those...are job-seekers, but the rest are simply community members that need other services,” he told the Straight.
“While pulling our employment contracts, they’re also cutting all those people off. Which means the people that need to use the phone to get in touch with a social worker, or to talk to their family, or for any reason, just don’t have that communication so easily anymore.”
The services offered by Pathways during the last nine years have included free access to Internet in a lab with about 18 terminals, phones, photocopying and faxing, and community voicemail.
“The Carnegie is kind of like the living room of the Downtown Eastside, we’re kind of like the office,” said St-Pierre. “So if you need to get stuff done, you come here to get it done.”
Case managers at the centre also helped clients with employment services, assisted them with other needs such as basic computer skills, and acted as a link to other resources, including help finding housing, food and clothing. St-Pierre said he's concerned that broad range of services offered under Pathways' unconventional service model won't be as accessible to Downtown Eastside residents under the new system.
“When someone actually gets up out of bed in the morning from staring at their four walls, decides ok I’ve got to find a job, and shaves, showers and makes their way through our doors, they’ve already done a huge amount to basically move themselves forward on their job search,” he said. “At that point, it’s up to us to basically keep that momentum going.”
“The new system isn’t going to do that, because a lot of these people are bureaucracy, workshop and paperwork adverse,” he added. “They’ve had bad experiences – this is not going to put the wind in their sails.”
Carol Madsen, the program director at Pathways, said the motivation behind establishing the centre 11 years ago was to offer resources to those clients that didn’t fit into the formal case management system.
“When we developed this model, it was based on the people that were being case managed,” she told the Straight. “Ninety-five percent of the people that I see in this building were never put onto the case management information system.”
“Many of the people that come in this building have got disabilities, mental health issues...many people have learning disabilities, for example,” she added. “They’ve fallen through the cracks their entire lives, and now we’re just going to push them out, and expect them to go and attend a workshop? That model doesn’t work.”
According to the Ministry of Social Development, many of the referral services delivered by Pathways will continue to be offered by the Open Door Group at the new location on West Hastings, near Abbott Street. Similar referral services will also be available through other provincial and non-profit programs and supports in the Downtown Eastside, a spokesperson for the ministry noted in a statement.
Alona Puehse, the director of public relations and corporation development at Open Door Group, said the service provider will be working with various organizations to connect clients with other resources.
“We’re working with a lot of different partners...so people who have expertise in working with immigrants, people who speak English as a second language, disabilities, youth, and so on,” she told the Straight by phone.
In terms of employment services, Puehse said the organization will offer access to job postings, resource rooms, equipment including between 20 and 30 computers, and case manage services.
“Basically any type of equipment that’s needed to kind of connect with jobs, but they’ll also have the access to workshops,” she said. “There’s also some life-skills workshops too, so for people who perhaps need some support around budgeting, around kind of that pre-employment stuff, those workshops are available as well.”
Puehse noted the non-profit organization has been around since 1976, and has experience offering services to Downtown Eastside residents, and working with people with mental health and addiction issues.
The Open Door employment centre will begin operating at 8 a.m. on Monday (April 2) at 112 West Hastings Street. Services will be available to all unemployed British Columbians who are eligible to work in the province.
Aboriginal Connections to Employment and BladeRunners, which are also located in the Pathways building at 390 Main Street, will continue to offer their services.