we want to influence change

Over the years, RainCity has developed emerging and promising practices related to housing and support for people experiencing extreme marginalization. By sharing our learnings, we can contribute to improved responses to people experiencing homelessness and marginalization and extend our reach and impact. Here are some of our innovations and partnerships we think are worth sharing.

Peer Witnessing
Cultural Safety Working Group
Overdose Prevention Site
Peer Services
2SLGBTQIA+ Housing for Youth
Housing First

peer witnessing

what it is

The Safer Use Peer Witness Program is a drug-user informed/honorarium-based initiative funded by Vancouver Coastal Health to operate in 10 of RainCity’s housing sites, our shelters, and the St Paul’s Overdose Prevention Site (OPS). Its intention is to provide peer-based support and witnessing of use in the places drug users live in order to increase safety and comfort for those most directly affected by an overdose.

why it's innovative

Peer witnessing is not intended as a replacement for the work of program staff, medical services, or seen as a “solution” to the overdose crisis. By observing and addressing risk-associated substance use in housing programs and shelters, including “hidden” overdoses and harms associated with illicit drug take place, this program has a positive impact on the well-being of housing support staff and empowerment of tenants and peers, and is ultimately saving lives.

Cultural Safety Working Group

what it is

Due to the impacts of colonization, residential schools, gendered violence, intergenerational trauma, and the child welfare system, many of the people we serve are Indigenous (First Nations, Native American, Metis, and Inuit). RainCity Housing recognizes the need to decolonize itself and create space for Indigenous representation, voices, and programming that goes beyond tokenism. The Cultural Safety Working Group (CSWG) is comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous unionized members, managers, and senior leadership that meet bi-monthly to guide and further this important work.

why it's innovative

Using a culturally informed model, we can collectively learn different ways to provide support and healing and offer services to folks who identify as Indigenous. The CSWG helped to create and define two key elements to our work: the Manager of Indigenous Services, and the Indigenous Cultural Liaison (ICL) positions. The ICL positions are being incorporated into a number of programs and supported by the Manager of Indigenous Services, within a larger culturally relevant support network and shared resources.

what's next

We continue to relearn ways of looking at healing, service planning, and transformation. The CSWG has shown that there are ways in which we can provide accountability and offer support in culturally relevant ways. We hope to incorporate ICL positions and programming into each of our sites, and provide Elder services on an on-going basis.

overdose prevention site

what it is

The Thomus Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site, or TDOPS, is located at 1101 Seymour Street in Vancouver’s West End and provides a place where a person can be safely monitored while using drugs and treated immediately if they overdose. It also offers drug testing and provides harm reduction supplies, harm reduction education, and referrals to health services, addictions services, and other social supports.

why it's innovative

This overdose prevention site is the only one outside Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where people can use drugs safely under the supervision of trained professionals and peers. Service users in this neighbourhood can walk to something close to their home, where they can feel safe using.

peer services department

what it is

Peer work is the inclusion of people of lived experience of trauma and adversity in solving problems experienced by people struggling with similar challenges. It is the practice of using ones own knowledge of recovery from difficult circumstances and through reciprocity engaging using that lived experience to promote others recovery.

In partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health to provide Peer Specialist healthcare services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Peer Services Department was formed to encompass and support the wide range of Peer Services that are currently offered and to expand and enhance these services both internally and externally. Peer work is embedded in RainCity’s programs at all levels: honorarium peer work for participants in our programs, hiring practices that value lived experience, unionized Peer Specialist positions on our outreach and supportive housing teams, and a Peer-designated Associate Director position.

why it's innovative

RainCity’s peer services are unique because we define peers more broadly than it is traditionally defined, not solely as having lived experience with mental health or substance use issues, but as people who are representative of the diverse population we serve. This approach emphasizes the need for peer work to provide mutual learning and support from a lens that reflects distinct experiences and the very often unheard voices.

Our commitment to including peer services and expertise in all levels of programming builds off a rich tradition of peer work around the world. Our goal is to promote this and elevate it in relevant and empowering ways across the nonprofit sector by modelling successes within our agency and in our partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health, providing Peer Specialist services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

2SLGBTQIA+ housing for youth

what it is

The 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and plus), Youth Housing First Program was established in 2015 to secure housing for queer and trans youth aged 18 to 24 experiencing homelessness. In addition to housing, the team supported youth in connecting to health care, employment, and community. Members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community often experience significant harassment, discrimination, and oppression which can lead to not being able to access basic services like health care and education.

why it's innovative

When it launched, there was no 2SLGBTQIA+ specific housing program in Canada. RainCity’s 2SLGBTQIA+ housing for youth was set up to ensure the safety, health, and emotional well being of young 2SLGBTQIA+ people and provided a safe environment that respected their identity. It was more than housing; it was an opportunity to build caring social networks. Unfortunately, we were unable to secure ongoing funding for this program and it is no longer in operation.

what's next

It's a false idea that we are all one pay cheque away from being homeless, since most of us have family or friends that ultimately would prevent that from happening. The youth that accessed this program taught us that social connections can keep people safe. The staff offered weekly communal dinners with the youth in order to create relationships with each other in an effort to protect them in the long run from being homeless. There were also monthly events for the youth to learn new skills, create art and other activities.

The wisdom from the youth is shared in ‘Where Am I Going to Go? Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada & the U.S.’, and was evaluated externally by the McCreary Centre Society, who have extensive experience with youth homelessness, specifically 2SLGBTQIA+ homeless youth. Here is McCreary's final report.


what it is

Many housing programs require applicants to achieve a substantial measure of 'housing readiness' before housing is accessible to them. These barriers typically mean that only those who are deemed 'stable' are able to access the services and housing they need, leaving hundreds experiencing homelessness, trauma, mental health or substance use issues, and other challenges with nowhere to go – except the streets.

For years, RainCity Housing has been one of the leaders offering a Housing First approach in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and has provided thousands of people an opportunity to live in supported housing.

why it's innovative

Everybody deserves a decent place to live. The Housing First model provides housing options to folks who traditionally have not been considered, ready for housing. As a result of housing first approaches, many folks have been successful in breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness, creating a more stable environment for themselves, and moving forward in their lives.

Housing First is an evidence based approach to supporting people to resolve their homelessness. It is not a quick fix, and securing and maintaining stable housing can require considerable support with lots of flexibility. Housing First is a significant departure from how services are typically delivered, and it can be challenging to implement the model while staying true to concepts of choice and recovery. Traditional methods work for many people who just need some support to get back into housing, but for people who experience chronic and recurring homelessness Housing First can be a hugely effective solution.

what's next

Since we believe in the concept of Housing First so strongly, we wanted to share our experiences with the whole world! We put together videos and accompanying workbooks that outline the five principles of Housing First.

We get requests for the Workbook and the Facilitator's guide from around the globe from people who want to establish Housing First best practices in their community.

The workbooks are available for free for nonprofits. Click on either the Workbook or the Facilitator’s Guide in order to access the PDFs.

And here are the videos for the five principles.

Immediate Access to Housing with No Housing Readiness Conditions
Recovery Orientation
Social and Community Integration
Consumer Choice and Self-Determination
Individualized and Person-driven Supports
Animated Overview of all five Principles

And these are the human beings that put together the videos and curriculum!

  • Director: Gwen Haworth
  • Editor: Jackie Hoffart
  • Animator: Michael A Mann
  • Composer: Daniel E Moxon
  • Additional Footage: Michael Hey
  • Jo Lemay: Curriculum Developer
  • Emily Beamer: Graphic Design
  • Producer: Aaron Munro

This wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible input and participation of our community partners: Pathways to Housing, MPA, Coast Mental Health, Atira, and Vancouver’s Housing First Speakers Bureau. And we wish to thank all of our community collaborators.

Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

PTH 299