The story of the Dugout, as told by one of our founders and current volunteer, Bob Burrows:
“In 1967, when I was a young minister at First United Church in Vancouver’s DowntownEastside (and two years before the re-discovery of Gastown), I secured the moral support of St. James Anglican, Holy Rosary Roman Catholic, First United and Central City Mission to explore the possibility of starting a drop-in centre that would provide a “living room” for the hundreds of people living on the street or in tiny single-occupancy rooms downtown. We wanted to provide a beer-parlour atmosphere, but have coffee instead of beer.
On my first afternoon looking for a space, a realtor took me to 59 Powell Street where 1500 square feet was being used to store empty cartons. The cost was $75 per month, and I said “yes” right away. Over the next six weeks several downtown men joined me in fixing up the space, and the City of Vancouver expedited the permit process.
We opened on December 9, 1967 and have been open virtually everyday since.
The essential work at the Dugout is done by three staff and many volunteers. We also have an Executive Director.
In the late 1970’s the building was for sale, and to prevent the Dugout losing its space, the City of Vancouver purchased the building (and still owns it to this day). There are 30 housekeeping rooms on the floors above street level, and many of the occupants visit our space.
The soup-line was added to the Dugout program about 30 years ago, in the 1980s. Currently between 150 and 200 enjoy soup, coffee and buns at 7:30am daily. Since April 1, 1968 there has been a daily AA meeting every day of the week (12:30–1:30).
Throughout the day coffee is available and snacks and bread (donated by several bakeries and stores) are given to those who stream in hoping there will be something to eat. People come by each day hoping for a muffin, a piece of cake or a loaf of bread. We have a roster of regular volunteers who work for several hours each week.
The four churches each chipped in $50 a month when the Dugout started. The City gave us a small operating grant each year, but it has been individuals and that groups have been the main supporters through the years. The Dugout currently requires just over $100,000 to operate each year, and we have to raise $30,000 to $40,000 of that through donations from the public. Not included in that budget is the value of the donated bread and pastries we receive and distribute. Currently, the value of the baked goods we receive annually has a retail value of $400,000 to $500,000. The bakeries and supermarkets are thrilled that we use their “end of day” bread which otherwise they would throw away.
In addition to purchasing large quantities of vegetables for the soup, we have must spend a significant amount on 8oz and 10oz cups for the coffee and soup, as well as plastic spoons, sugar cubs, stir sticks, beef, chicken and vegetable soup base, as well as any other seasoning we use to make the soup. The other major expenses of the Dugout are our utility costs, including hydro, cable and internet, one salary, and a small honorarium given monthly to the regular volunteers who are low-income men and women from the downtown community.
After over 50 years I still believe in the value of the Dugout, and the nourishment and hope it brings to so many. It will be most appreciated if you are able to support this project.”
Now retired as a minister, Bob continues to spend a significant portion of his time volunteering with the Dugout.
Our mission has not wavered since our inception, as we still seek to provide a safe space amongst the many struggles that face the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
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