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Community ‘navigators’ pair with posties to restore Downtown Eastside mail service

Click to play video: 'Mail service resumes in Downtown Eastside neighbourhood' Mail service resumes in Downtown Eastside neighbourhood
Mail service is set to resume in a Downtown Eastside neighbourhood after it was temporarily suspended when Canada Post cited safety concerns. Emad Agahi has more on the community-led solution – Apr 30, 2022

Regular mail service will resume to a two-block stretch of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside next week under a collaboration with a local community group.

Canada Post halted delivery to East Hasting Street between Carrrall and Main streets for nearly five weeks in March and April.

Click to play video: 'Canada Post halts delivery to some Downtown East Side businesses' Canada Post halts delivery to some Downtown East Side businesses
Canada Post halts delivery to some Downtown East Side businesses – Apr 12, 2022

The Crown corporation cited “health and safety concerns,” stating postal workers had been verbally abused and confronted with open drug use.

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Read more: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside sees mail delivery services temporarily return

Service was restored last Tuesday, under what charity group Mission Possible described as a pilot project that is now being extended.

The initiative, Mission Possible Executive Director and CEO Matthew Smedley explained, involves partnering posties with “community navigators to service a particularly challenging area with high traffic, high volume, lots of debris, some blocked doorways. Things like that cause challenges.”

Under the program, a team of two navigators pair up with each postal worker and accompany them on their route, help them access buildings and liaise with the community.

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The navigators are hired through Mission Possible MP Neighbours program, one of Mission Possible’s initiatives that helps people facing poverty or homelessness in the Downtown Eastside transition back into the workforce.

“When we heard they had stopped mail delivery it was just, ‘What is going on?'” MP Neighbours coordinator Jay Hockley told Global News.

“Right away the team was, ‘How can we be a solution?'”

Click to play video: 'DTES residents demonstrate against Canada Post’s refusal to deliver mail to some areas' DTES residents demonstrate against Canada Post’s refusal to deliver mail to some areas
DTES residents demonstrate against Canada Post’s refusal to deliver mail to some areas – Apr 26, 2022

Hockley said the team met with postal workers at their depot last week, before heading out with them on their routes for the pilot.

He said the team got a positive response from mail carriers, who supported the continuation of the project.

“Our presence gave them a comfort. They really appreciated the support,” he said.

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While getting postal workers on board was crucial, Hockley said the program’s real victory is ensuring DTES residents have reliable mail service again.

“I’ve got a very unique perspective, I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum,” he said. “I was a guy in one of those SROs (single room occupancy hotels) waiting for a cheque, and I know the anxiety levels that can happen, I know what happens if the mail is late, if a cheque doesn’t show up.”

Read more: Canada Post suspends delivery in Downtown Eastside due to ‘health and safety’ concerns

While mail service was suspended, residents of the affected area were required to pick their mail up at a Canada Post facility 14 blocks away.

That task proved challenging for people with mobility and other health or social issues, or did not have ID.

The outage culminated in a protest last Tuesday by angry residents.

“Mail disruption can lead to things like additional late fees and things like that may not matter to many people, but to those who are struggling with poverty, it makes a huge impact in their lives,” Smedley said.

“There’s hundreds of people who count on their mail being delivered for money, for bills, for everything we need to keep our lives moving. It’s just one more challenge that people have been facing.”

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Smedley described last week’s pilot project as “smooth.” The initiative is being extended for the foreseeable future.

A spokesperson from Canada Post could not be reached for comment.

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