SFU CED Grad Joins Team Tackling Inequality in DTES
October 03, 2016
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Alisha Maxfield graduated from the SFU Certificate program in Community Economic Development in May 2016. Alisha works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) as a mental health worker for Coast Mental Health, and has worked for RainCity Housing and Support Society. Shortly after graduation, Alisha became Community Economic Development Coordinator for the DTES Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee.
You just got a job with the Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee. Can you tell me a bit about the committee and your new role?
The CED Strategic Action Committee is quite large – made up of Downtown Eastside residents, and many stakeholders, including local BIAs (business improvement associations), community groups, social enterprises in the area, City of Vancouver staff, the local neighbourhood house, employment services organizations, and non-profit service providers.
We are a community-based committee, involving many stakeholders that live and/or work in the community. We meet once a month and decide together what are the major issues together with regards to economic development and people's livelihoods in the Downtown Eastside, and develop recommendations for action on these issues. There are also 3 sub committees within CEDSAC whom meet once a month as well, which are the Incomes and Livelihoods group, Retail Gentrification and Social Inclusion group, and the Community Benefits Agreements group. We present our recommendations to the City of Vancouver council on November 29th so they can include them in the DTES plan and the healthy city strategy. (You can check out more about the CED strategy on the City of Vancouver website.) http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/ced-strategy
My role on the committee includes coordinating projects, facilitation, attending meetings, report writing and community engagement. I go out into the community and both obtain feedback from residents and others in the community, and inform them of our work as a committee. I work closely with Kiri Bird who runs the Local Economic Development Lab, an initiative of SFU RADIUS and Ecotrust Canada. Her and I do a lot of community engagement and community facilitation work together.
You have been in your new role three months now. How is it going?
It’s going well. It’s very fast-paced, and I am learning as I go. It is the challenge I have been looking for, that’s for sure.
Tell me about how the SFU Certificate Program for Community Economic Development led to this job?
The SFU CED program showed me the enormous potential of community economic development to create the social impact that many people have been tirelessly working towards.
The CED program connected me with the right people in Vancouver. Through the program, I met instructors, classmates and alumni who I now work with on the committee.
And of course, the knowledge I gained in the program has helped me to jump right in to this new role. From day one, I understood the language and was familiar with many of the projects in the DTES.
You have been working in mental health and housing in Vancouver, kind of on the frontlines of where we need the most social supports. Can you say something about the role of CED in addressing these challenges?
A huge piece of community economic development involves bringing people together to address the concerns that affect them.
When it comes to housing and mental health, the people seeking services are usually on income assistance. There is enormous benefit in having the community come together to share their perspectives and advocate together for system changes. Through that community involvement, grassroots change can occur. People come together and start thinking about solutions.
What is the goal of the CED Strategic Action Committee?
The biggest crisis in the DTES are homelessness and poverty. They go hand in hand. A part of that picture is gentrification making it more difficult for people to live in that community.
It is increasingly difficult for people to simply buy groceries or every day goods at an affordable price in their own community. People who are homeless are literally being moved further and further east into the suburbs.
The CED committee hopes to mitigate that gentrification as much as possible. We want to keep people in their community where they have relationships. They have a lot of share.
You have worked in the DTES for seven years. What vision are you working towards?
I want to work towards systems change that benefit community members who have been struggling in the DTES in the last several years. I want people to feel included and connected to their community and have various ways of generating an income for themselves, with opportunities to showcase their talents and skills within the DTES community and the city at large.