Vancouver may be known as a food city, but for so many residents it’s anything but.
For young people who are homeless, accessing nutritious, flavourful, and affordable food on a regular basis is a challenge.
“It’s really hard to secure healthy food on a limited budget–especially for youth on the streets,” Marnie Goldenberg, youth-services director at Directions Youth Services, said in a statement. “Even if they do get it, where do they store it? How will they prepare a meal? Meeting basic nutritional needs is a daily struggle, and food that doesn’t sustain them seriously undermines their ability to tackle other concerns such as employment or housing.”
Directions Youth Services is hosting an upcoming night on the town unlike any other to raise awareness of food insecurity and funds to help alleviate it.
The organization’s food program offers meals and snacks 365 days a year to homeless and street-involved youth. Last year alone, and relying on donated food and volunteer hours, it served 49,621 hot meals at its 24-hour drop-in centre (1138 Burrard Street)–a record number. For many young people, this is the only healthy meal they’ll eat in a day.
However, coming into the centre to eat often opens the door to other programs and services.
“It’s how outreach workers start a conversation with youth on the streets,” Directions Youth Services’ food-program coordinator, Mette Bach, said in a release. “Youth come in for a meal and have a chance to bond with staff. This eventually leads to youth feeling comfortable enough to ask for support in other areas such as counselling, detox, housing, education, and employment.”
During A Night in the Life, which takes place on March 7, people will go on a short tour guided by a youth experiencing homelessness and Directions Youth Services staff. They’ll eat a typical meal served at its drop-in centre then participate in a homelessness simulator game in which they have 90 minutes to secure food, shelter and income while assuming the identity of a youth. From there, they’ll spend the night sleeping outside on Burrard Street.
Alternatively, people can make donations to support Directions Youth Service’s food program.
“As a community, we must work toward maximizing healthy choices, self-reliance and equal access,” Goldenberg said. “So we’re inviting Vancouverites to spend an evening with our youth to witness some of the barriers they face, and hopefully feel inspired to enact change.”
Operated by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, Directions Youth Services is a collection of services and locations supporting vulnerable youth, including the drop-in centre, outreach teams, pre-employment programs, two safe houses, and a youth detox centre.
Many of the youth are living with complex mental health issues and addictions.
To register for or donate to A Night in the Life, visit www.anightinthelife.ca/.