Our story started with soap, but has become a never-ending effort to get resources to the DTES.  

When it became obvious that COVID-19 was a threat to the already vulnerable residents, community groups sprang into action. We knew that frequent hand washing was one of the most important ways to combat covid — however, how do you wash your hands if you don’t even have soap? A few ad hoc folks came together to figure out how to get massive quantities of hygiene products to residents, and what it led to was an ambitious campaign to get more support for other immediate needs. 

There are approximately 15,000 people at risk in the DTES. 3,000 are unhoused and 4,700 are at high risk in privately run Single Room Occupancy hotels (SROs). Residents are being told to self-isolate and to stay home, but social distancing is a privilege. And how do you stay home, if you don’t have a house?

COVID-19 has also disrupted every service in the DTES. Community spaces serving food have shut down or reduced their service, food banks have limited stock, and cancelled cash economies have created loss of income. Many residents don’t have access to phones so if they are able to self-isolate, they can’t stay connected, communicate, or get necessary information. Additionally, many folks also have underlying health conditions and an outbreak could decimate the community. 

DTES Response was created to try and coordinate ground efforts and fundraising to ensure this unprecedented threat does not disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our communities. On March 23, 2020 we launched our DTES Response Fund to raise donations to support urgent needs.

Sarah, OPS & Kathy, DTES Response

We launched three weeks ago today, and we are thrilled to announce we have raised $120,000 from over 1,000 donors. This is a people-powered response, created by the people and for the people. It is meeting the needs of the community and peer groups who are doing the frontline work. Every. Single. Day. 

Donations are going to support immediate needs including food, hygiene products, stipends for loss of income, cellphones, and other items as needed. Here are the groups and projects this fund is supporting (as needs are brought to us from the community this list grows):

  • Everybody Is In

Is a specific project created in the wake of COVID. It is funded by the DTES Response to act as a hub and distribution centre for residents.

  • DTES SRO Collaborative

They work tirelessly to improve habitality, safety, and housing security for SRO residents. The SRO Collaborative was established to organize SRO tenants in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Chinatown. SROs are typically small single rooms about 10×10 feet with a shared bathroom on each floor and typically without a shared kitchen. They are known to be aging, decrepit, infamously lawless and inhabitable places to live with poor maintenance and numerous health and safety code violations.

  • Tenants Overdose Response Organizers

SROs have been the sites of multiple overdose deaths. Many privately-owned SROs are minimally staffed, not staffed 24 hours, or have staff who are not trained in First Aid or Overdose Response. The Tenant Overdose Response Organizers (TORO)live in privately owned SROs and are hired to work on habitability and safety campaigns and to stop renovictions that cause homelessness and to prevent overdose deaths in private SROs.

  • Overdose Prevention Society

Is a highly innovative & collective solution to many issues in community health, & our project represents an inspiring example of citizen action in a public health emergency. Participation in our Overdose Prevention Site educates peers in Advocacy; Community Governance; Innovative Strategies; Health Literacy; addressing health & social inequalities; facilitators & barriers for scaling up innovations; and improving health outcomes through empowerment.

  • Western Aborignial Harm Reduction Society

Is a group of urban Aboriginal peoples who live, work, and play in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. They work to give their members a voice, teach advocacy, to empower the people to fight for themselves, and to educate different people about our members’ strengths and challenges.

  • Friends of Carnegie Community Action Project

CCAP works on housing, income, and land use issues in the Downtown Eastside. Currently Friends of CCAP is a group organizing meals, hygiene kits, and COVID-19 information flyers to residents of Oppenheimer Park and on the streets near Main and Hastings.

  • Muslim Care Centre

Striving to serve, share and counsel, MCC focuses on daily food distribution, addiction (drugs/alcohol), mental health and women’s counselling, chiropractic services, and daily prayer services.

  • PACE Society

PACE is a peer-driven organization located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver that provides support, advocacy, and education by, with, and for current and former sex workers of all genders.

  • Aboriginal Front Door

AFD is a meeting place and a drop-in centre with a welcoming environment, providing opportunities to learn more about Aboriginal Peoples and Culture. When necessary, they can also offer other services, such as serving as a crisis centre, brokering long-term and specialty trauma counselling, food programs, and doing court accompaniments.


Watari’s service is trauma-informed and based on an individual’s innate strengths, capabilities, and desire for wellness. They encourage an exploration and deeper understanding of self and community, so that people can make informed choices.

  • Health through SPIRIT

Society of Pillars or Individuals Receiving Involuntary treatment (SPIRIT) engages in advocacy, knowledge sharing, and evidence-based practice to dismantle oppression in our mental health system and create new systems of healing.

  • La Boussole

Créé en 1992, La Boussole, centre communautaire d’accueil crée des liens sociaux dans la diversité, et soutient les francophones du Grand Vancouver à s’épanouir dans leur milieu de vie.

Created in 1992, La Boussole, a community reception center creates social ties in diversity, and supports Francophones in Greater Vancouver to thrive in their living environment.

  • Raise the Rates

Is a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in British Columbia. They have been campaigning for 10 years for a systemic solution to poverty: raising welfare and disability rates in BC.

Thank you so much to EVERYONE of you for supporting this initiative. Having these resources from the public in this volume is not typical for the neighborhood. You are helping and we can’t thank you enough.

The spirit of the DTES Response has always been about meeting the needs of the neighbourhood. We are activating networks in the community to create a stop-gap plan for the most urgent needs. We are committed to making sure residents have access to items that will help keep them fed, safe, informed and connected.

We may have formed out of a pandemic, but the Downtown Eastside deserved our attention long before COVID-19. We will not stop supporting the neighbourhood. We will not stop listening to the needs of the residents. We will not stop fundraising and advocating until everyone is safely housed and poverty is eliminated. We’re all in this together. 

Stay safe and be well,

Team DTES Response | Fundraising and Frontline Network Support

If you are a group in the DTES requiring assistance please contact wecare@dtesresponse.ca