Agenda Index City of Vancouver


Date: November 14, 1997

Author/Local: D.MacKenzie 257-3870

CC File No.8105

TO: Vancouver City Council

FROM: Director of the Gathering Place, Community Services Group

SUBJECT: Update on Patron Use of the Gathering Place


The General Manager of Community Services submits this report for INFORMATION.


This report speaks to data collection, membership, and the original intent of the Gathering Place.

Reference is made to 1996, the first completed year of operation of the Gathering Place. Data was difficult to study as it was simply 400 handwritten pages of names and addresses of members. In total there were 4,446 members, 26% female and 74% male. The overall records did not specify ages of patrons, though the Reading Room and volunteer roster did convey that information.

To determine whether the needs of neighbourhood residents were being met, this writer and a computer consultant studied the 4,446 addresses and determined that:

·880·50% of the membership lived within the strictly defined Downtown South boundaries·880

·880·30% of the membership had no fixed address·880

·880·20% lived outside the immediate Downtown South boundaries, some adjacent to Downtown South, some in other parts of the City but connected to the Gathering Place from earlier addresses or through a welfare or probation office referral.·880

This report relates efforts of the Gathering Place to inform hotel and social housing residents of services and programs available, especially for those over age forty. The report notes that the unifying factor of the membership is poverty.

This report indicates a new system of data collection at the Gathering Place, effective July of 1997, and an ongoing commitment to monitor the Centre’s membership and its original intent.


The purpose of this report is to provide Council with information related to its motion of April 16, 1996:

THAT staff be directed to gather information in a systematic way as to who the Gathering Place serves and ascertain if the original intent of the Gathering Place is being met.


I apologize for the length of time it has taken to report back to Council. The establishing of the Centre, hiring of staff, development of policies/procedures/programs, and the actual running of the new facility -- all have taken their time and their toll and it is only in recent months that hours have been available to deal with Council’s motion. The Centre’s first full year of operation was 1996 and this report brings a review of the data of that year.


The mission set out by Council more than five years ago was to provide "something like the Carnegie Centre" which could address the needs of the economically and socially disadvantaged residents of Downtown South in the face of massive redevelopment.

Data available about the neighbourhood in 1991 came from the Butt Report, a survey of 1,250 Downtown South hotel residents. This report pointed out the need for residents’ services, including an appropriate community centre. The information also pointed out that Downtown South is a quite different community from the Downtown Eastside. Downtown South hotel residents were younger and more transient. Butt termed 33% of the Downtown South hotel dwellers transient and pointed out that 90% of these were male, averaged 40 years of age, moved frequently in and out of the area, were not heavy drinkers or the typical homeless but were rather young and educated men who were looking for ways to get out of the area. Of the total hotel residents surveyed, 88% were male, 60% under age 45, 93%living alone. One quarter of the residents had either slept on the street or in an emergency shelter in the previous six months. The transients had a tendency to move from hotel to hotel in the area, with 33% of the hotel population moving in the previous six months, an average of 5 times.

I spent two years working with the community to establish the Gathering Place and in reports to Council the following target populations were identified:

·880·SRO hotel residents·880

·880·social housing residents·880

·880·hostel & emergency shelter residents·880

·880·a wandering community of mentally ill·880

·880·the homeless·880

·880·street youth·880


·880·the HIV community accessing the Pacific Aids Resource Centre and Helmcken House·880

·880·youth accessing services downtown - Street Youth Services, (Family Services), Adolescent Services Unit (MHR), Street Nurses·880

·880·social assistance clients of the Seymour Street offices·880

·880·seniors, members of Second Mile Society drop-in at New Continental·880

·880·members of Downtown Granville Tenants Association·880

·880·market renters·880

·880·refugees at Welcome House on Drake Street·880

In 1991, the Planning Department was referring to a population of 2,500 in Downtown South, with growth expected to go to 11,000 by the year 2015.

We knew the Downtown South community to which the Gathering Place would appeal is a disconnected community, with many isolated residents. We also knew that Granville Street is the entry point for youth and transients migrating to Vancouver, so there would be an ongoing influx of new faces.

Two years of consultation and needs assessments indicated that for the affected Downtown South community "something like Carnegie" would include:

·880·a lowcost kitchen supporting a volunteer program·880

·880·recreational and social space·880

·880·a health centre with showers, laundry, and delousing·880

·880·a learning centre·880

·880·a reading room·880

With the assistance of the Province (funding the Health Centre) and the Vancouver School Board (funding the Learning Centre) the City was able to provide all of the services and programs requested by the community and opened quietly in March of 1995, officially in December of 1995.

Where do the members live?

For this report, addresses of patrons were a primary factor as we attempted to determine whether the Gathering Place is serving the neighbourhood residents it was set up to serve. For 1996, our first complete year as a centre, the paperwork was tedious and incomplete --400 pages of handwritten data which required the efforts of this writer and a computer consultant to interpret. In future years we will be able to provide the information more handily. For 1996 the task has been enormous.

Members living in Downtown South

This is what we learned. In 1996, 4,446 memberships were sold, 1,142 to women and 3,304 to men, 26% women and 74% men. We do not know the ages of those patrons, but are able to capture that information on the new system. Our random survey of addresses indicates that approximately 50% of the patrons lived within the strictly defined Downtown South boundaries.

We know that the Downtown South community in 1996 held 2,592 units in SRO hotels, hostels, and social housing. Fifty percent of the Gathering Place’s 1996 membership lived in Downtown South, a total of 2,223 members. Unfortunately, it is not possible to state that the mandate of the Gathering Place is fulfilled, based on these comparative numbers. The transient factor plays a big role here, with countless patrons over the course of a year living in the same hotel room or emergency shelter address.

We know there are SRO hotel residents and social housing residents who are not accessing the Gathering Place. To reach these people we have sent our Community Programmer one day a week into neighbourhood hotels and social housing in an attempt to reach out to seniors, people over 40. Through a questionnaire, meetings, and door knocking, the Community Programmer was able to determine that indeed some older neighbourhood residents were not using the Centre. There were misunderstandings -- some people believed the Gathering Place to be a youth centre. There was alienation for some community members as they witnessed Gathering Place youth with tattoos and piercings. There was lack of information about programs for patrons over age 40. There was lack of interest -- for some community members the bar is their community centre and nothing short of draft beer on tap plus jackpot bingo would draw them into the Gathering Place.

We have now produced a brochure and a special schedule of activities for those over 40 and we have worked with Neighbourhood Helpers to inform isolated hotel residents of the services available at the Gathering Place. But some people we will not attract, no matter what we do. There are long-term residents who rarely leave their hotels, especially those who are chronic drinkers. For some living in the available social housing there is disdain for those still in hotels or hostels or on the street, and folks with this attitude would never willingly enter the Gathering Place where the needy and the seedy hang out.

Members with no fixed address

A particular problem in determining "appropriate" usage of the Gathering Place is the following:

30% of the patrons stated they had no fixed address. Some of these patrons were homeless. Some lived in hostels. Some were squatting in a vacant dwelling. Some were staying temporarily with friends or relatives. Some considered their SRO hotel address to be temporary. And some may have been refusing to give information for reasons ranging from shame (about their address) to protection (trouble with the police or bill collectors).

Judy Graves of the City’s Tenant Assistance Program believes the City has a permanent core of 600 homeless people, with the number rising in the summers. She tracked the homeless as part of the last Canada census process. She is aware of numbers of people living in City parks who use the services of the Gathering Place for showers, laundry and food. With access to these services people are able to keep themselves together. Judy Graves points out the necessary limits to intrusiveness when registering people, whether for a census or community centre membership. Her concern is that too much information demanding will turn away those who most need the service, those who would be stabilized by the service.

Other members

Of the remaining 20% of Gathering Place patrons, many addresses indicated residence (hotels, rooming houses, apartments) in the Downtown East Side, West End, areas immediately adjacent to the Downtown South boundaries. There was some participation from other areas of Vancouver, usually from people who had settled elsewhere after earlier contact with the Centre. Some out of area people had been put in touch with the Gathering Place through their financial aid workers or probation officers. Though patrons may come from outside the Downtown South area, poverty is the unifying factor. Most patrons are on social assistance, some on pensions and employment insurance, some subsisting with nogovernment support, some are the working poor. There is no indication whatsoever that the Gathering Place is being abused for its free or lowcost services by the middle class or wealthy. Market renters and condo owners are not prohibited from the use of Gathering Place services, but it is the poor who are drawn to the centre.


In 1996 there were 143 volunteers, 101 male and 42 female. Of these, 49% lived within the strict Downtown South boundaries, most in SRO hotels but some in social housing and some in hostels. Birth date of volunteers was requested by the Volunteer Co-ordinator so we are able to present the age range of these valuable team members.

Teens - 1

In 20s - 25

In 30s - 44

In 40s - 37

In 50s - 29

In 60s - 6

In 70s - 1

As an overview, 78% were aged 30 to 59.

Learning Centre

In the Learning Centre, staff estimate 90% of the students lived in the neighbourhood, though 50% stated they had no fixed address. In 1996 there were 400 registered students, with an estimated age range of:

12 to 18 years - 40%

19 to 26 years - 40%

27+ years - 20%

Unlike the rest of the building, Learning Centre patrons were 60% women and 40% men. Some seniors did participate. One 50 year old was taking math. Another had upgraded his literacy from grade one to grade 8.

Reading Room

For the Reading Room in 1996, 27% of the 1,743 patrons were female, and 73% male. The library computer software is school based and includes a request for birthdates. A random sampling indicated the following age range of Reading Room patrons:

2% - aged in the teens

25% - aged in the 20s

26% - aged in the 30s

23% - aged in the 40s

18% - aged in the 50s

6% - aged in the 60s

Those who made consistent use of the Reading Room as a place to spend the day reading or listening to tapes were single men over age 35. The Reading Room collection consisted of 14,690 items, including paperback books, music tapes, and magazines. There were 12,521 circulations for the 1996 calendar year. The average number of patrons per day was 56; the number of queries per day was 30.

The Health Centre

The Health Centre, funded by the Province, produced the following 1996 statistics:

·880·loads of laundry - 18,757·880

·880·showers taken by men - 12,317·880

·880·showers taken by women - 1,567·880

·880·clothes repaired - 532·880

·880·delousings - 123·880

·880·haircuts - 572·880

·880·first aid treatments - 145·880

·880·items of clothing distributed - 4,256·880

Staff estimate the age of health centre patrons ranged from 13 to 60, with regulars falling into two pools -- teens, and 30 to 40 year olds. Staff also estimate sixty percent of the regulars came from Downtown South, particularly from the hotels. The other 40% were from outside the boundaries, no fixed address, many living in squats and camping.


What we don’t have prior to July 1st is a registry of patrons’ ages. Despite evidence of their own eyes to the contrary, the Vancouver Sun insists upon calling the facility a youth centre, an oasis for street youth, etc. Soft evidence is that the average age of patrons is late thirties or early forties, that programs have the participation of folks from 15 to 60, that seniors eat here and use the weight room and pool room and therapeutic bath and Reading Room. There has been little unpleasantness between youth and seniors.

This report has been a difficult project. No matter how slick a computerized data collection system we establish, Gathering Place projects like this will be skewed and unscientific. We have little capability for sophisticated statistical analysis. Our patron pool does not have all the regularities of middle class clients, with consistent addresses and birthdates they’re willing to release. Many of our people are living in poverty and crisis and transition, and the major stability of their lives is the time spent and the services used at the Gathering Place.

In spite of the difficulties, this writer has tried to give Council an overview of the Gathering Place. We are well established in the community, work co-operatively with other agencies, and try to provide a quality service to our patrons. In conducting internal user surveys (kitchen, recreation programs) we have listened to both the praise and the suggestions for improvements, and acted accordingly. Practicum students have worked with us to discover barriers to service for women, seniors and the disabled. And now we have established a more sophisticated computer program to help us gather information. We will continue to reach into the hotels, hostels and social housing with staff visits and surveys.

With the help of a programmer, we are moving towards a more sophisticated data collection system. In 1996 the information (name and address) was recorded by hand by the security attendant registering the membership. Since July of 1997 the data collected at time of membership now includes birthdate, and specific codes as to whether or not the address fits into the Downtown South boundaries and whether it is hostel, hotel, social housing, etc. This information, still collected by hand, is put into the computer by the facility clerk. By early 1998, all security attendants will be trained to input the information directly into the computer. We will also begin to collect data of daily patron volumes. This should make future analysis easier. We will continue to monitor both the population served, and the original intent of The Gathering Place.

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