Responding to human suffering and community need by amplifying silenced voices towards social inclusion and social change.
In the beginning, working on the front line at the Portland Hotel Society meant witnessing a brutal degree of suffering, discrimination, and dehumanization. Decent and kind human beings became sick, were treated abhorrently, and died. On these occasions there was no public outcry and the inhumanity resonated with the PHS.
With little to no acknowledgement of what was happening the PHS felt an urgency to advocate, educate and draw attention to what was taking place.
This led to the formation of a key part of what defines the PHS. While working to improve the practical conditions in which people live in the community, there were many occasions when public education, consensus building and meetings failed. In these situations, the PHS did not stand by and watch but rather felt compelled to act. This drove us to create a strong advocacy role. If the Federal Government wanted to close Insite, the only alternative would be to watch drug users die. This was not an option so the organization would not be silent.
Similar campaigns were conducted to address the desperate need for social housing units in the community. The PHS worked closely with the squatters at the Wood-squat in protesting the impact of the loss of this historic department store exclusively to private developer interests.
The PHS has always tried to represent the needs of the people in the community who are under served, unseen and who have too frequently been unheard. Immersed in the suffering and in relationships with hundreds of the most marginalized people in the DTES, the PHS team tried to find ways to communicate the enormity of these needs and to humanize the circumstances of this suffering – in order to implement practical solutions.
Whether it was in “The Killing Fields” Campaign when a 50 foot red banner was stretched across the intersection of Main and Hastings St. stopping traffic and alerting people to the crisis in the community, and building 1,000 wooden crosses that were planted in Oppenheimer Park, or whether it was during the “We are not faceless” Campaign, attempting to put the desperate need for funding respectful and dignified drug treatment for marginalized women in the community into the public domain – at the time of the release of the Public inquiry into the Pickton murders – these initiatives have defined the PHS since it’s inception.
By walking beside people– developing self-awareness, and delivering service through relationships on the ground– we learn. Adapting, being flexible and responsive, and staying relevant, means listening to community need. Understanding our obligation to this relationship in our work and in our commitment to creating and protecting space for a marginalized population.