Storage facility at First United Church. Image Source: First United Church

The CEDs of Storage

November 18, 2019
In this recurring segment, “The CEDs of…”, we take an ABCs approach to exploring aspects of community economic development (CED). There are many simple yet profound examples of CED practices and framings that enhance the ability of communities to support economic development in their local communities. These articles give individual treatment to unlikely but compelling approaches that may have application in your own community.

Where am I going to put all my stuff today while I’m at work?

This is usually not a question most of us ask. Most of us have apartments or houses where we chuck all our belongings while we go out and live our lives in the world. Besides being a place to sleep, eat, and socialize, our homes are giant safe deposit boxes for clothes and keepsakes, and this safety for our belongings literally keeps our hands free to build, type, trade, and do all of the primary life activities we carry on outside of the home.

For the homeless though, belongings are under constant threat. The simple act of going into a grocery store or bathroom leaves everything from bedding to personal paperwork to camping stoves exposed to theft, confiscation, or destruction.

This is why it is sad news to hear this week about the closure of the First United Church’s storage program in Vancouver. Launched in 2010, the storage program was one of the first in North America, and gave the homeless a little piece of shelter in a city where space for any kind of need is harder and harder to find. Other cities took note, and there have been multiple programs similar to or modeled off of the First United Church’s approach in cities like Kamloops, Prince George, Portland, and San Diego.

Although people usually focus on the highly barriered homeless in the downtown core, during Vancouver’s poverty reduction community engagement sessions we heard numerous stories of housing insecurity from a broad range of populations including new immigrants, seniors, the LGBT community, and others. Front-line workforce providers like EMBERS Vancouver consistently serve relatively under-housed populations who are trying to survive in the local workforce while they live in cars or move from couch-to-couch. Homelessness is not just relegated to the streets, but is an issue that is creeping up throughout the workforce.

Now obviously “Housing is a Human Right” should be the first thing to come to mind in this situation, especially given the absolute need for housing. However, community economic development is often engaged in small, targeted initiatives that address market and policy failures while larger machinations of change unfold. Storage programs for the homeless and under-housed are a comparatively low-cost approach that fill a gap in the economic ecosystem. They provide spaces for people to protect their belongings while they seek and engage in work, or find ever-changing places to sleep. Although not a long-term solution, they can ease burdens and barriers from people so they can pursue their basic life needs and well-being.

I look forward to the City of Vancouver finding an alternative for this program, and encourage other cities to explore storage options for the homeless and under-housed. Working people shouldn’t have to sacrifice their possessions just to participate in the workforce.