home / resources


Advocacy Issues

Demand drug policy changes to save lives

Date 14 Aug, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

In honour of International Overdose Awareness Day, tell your MLA that bold and immediate action is necessary for decriminalization and legal regulation to be effective against the toxic drug crisis. 

There has been an increase in attacks on harm reduction strategies in Canadian politics and the media—including the decriminalization of small amounts of drugs, safer supply, and safe injection sites.  

At FIRST UNITED, we know that harm reduction is an effective and evidence-based approach, and that it’s the most dignified way to prevent overdose deaths.  

The disinformation that is being spread about the toxic drug crisis and harm reduction increases stigma and endangers those who are at risk of dying from the toxic drug supply. We’re seeing stigma play a role in crucial life-saving services being cut. Recently, overdose prevention sites are even being closed by government officials. We can’t afford to lose these services now. Not when we’re losing six people every day to this crisis.  

Last year, we called on the provincial government to urgently implement bolder measures to prevent more deaths. Our position on drug policy hasn’t changed, and we are renewing our call to have these important measures taken.  

Will you use your voice to urge the government to make crucial changes now? Lives depend on it. 

*If you don’t see the letter, please refresh your page.

Op-ed: No one should be prevented from using air conditioners in their home

Date 11 Aug, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

This op-ed was originally published in the Vancouver Sun on August 11 2023. By Dr. Sarah Marsden, Director of Systems Change and Legal, and Katie Koncan, Director of Development and Communications

Summers are getting hotter in Vancouver and across B.C. every year. Two years ago, a deadly heat dome killed 619 people in the province. And yet, tenants are being prevented from installing air conditioners in their homes to protect themselves against extreme heat — fearing eviction or rent increases if they don’t comply.

First United is a direct-service provider in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; we support people who are homeless or facing extreme poverty among other intersecting challenges. Earlier this year, we began work on law reform to prevent evictions and homelessness, and to improve protections for tenants in B.C., taking a systems-level approach to help the folks we see every day, building on the work we’ve been doing for nearly 140 years. We are pursuing law and policy reform because we believe systems-level change will have the greatest positive impact on people and communities.

On the issue of cooling requirements for residential buildings, we see an obvious gap in provincial law: The Residential Tenancy Act has no specific language on heating and cooling, and instead those issues are addressed through municipal bylaws.

However, the RTA does require rental homes to comply with health and safety standards and says that units must be “suitable for occupation.” If people are at risk of death because they are prevented from using or installing a cooling device in their home, this is blatantly inconsistent with a home that this “suitable for occupation,” and with the idea of basic health and safety.

The provincial government seems to agree in spirit: It launched an initiative earlier this summer to provide free air conditioners to “people who are medically vulnerable and have low incomes.” This is a positive step. But there are two fundamental limitations to this approach: first, that some landlords are reportedly preventing qualified tenants from using the program; and second, that tenants have to qualify at all. All tenants have the right to basic standards of health and safety in their homes — both those who are medically vulnerable and low income, and those who are not.

Perhaps most frustrating is that there are very clear regulations requiring a minimum level of heat in the winter, at least in the city of Vancouver. Under Vancouver’s Standards of Maintenance Bylaw, all residential buildings must have heating systems that can maintain every room at 22 degrees. There is a reason we don’t hear stories of tenants freezing to death in their homes or being denied adequate heating: because they have legal protections in place already.

But there are solutions. The provincial government and city of Vancouver (and all other municipalities) can take concrete steps to protect residents. The RTA could be amended to include that tenants are allowed to install and use air conditioning or cooling devices (Ontario has already taken this step). The Strata Property Act could also be changed to prohibit bylaws that stop residents from installing or using air conditioners or cooling devices. The city of Vancouver could amend the Standards of Maintenance bylaw to add that residential dwellings be coolable to 26 degrees, whether through inbuilt or additional appliances (the city of New Westminster is already considering a similar change).

These are three simple solutions that can be implemented quickly to improve conditions for thousands of people across B.C.

It’s understandable that laws like this aren’t already in place. Climate change is impacting us like never before. Twenty years ago, who would have thought air conditioning would be such an urgent issue? As a society, we’re always learning, growing and progressing. But now that we know, and now that we’ve seen hundreds die from extreme heat, we must act, and our laws must adapt. Any barrier posed to those who seek relief from skyrocketing temperatures inside their own home is cruel and unconscionable.

Nobody should have to choose between rent increases, eviction, or risk to their health and safety. If that is how bad the housing crisis has become, then B.C. is in the hot seat more than we realized.

We Need Low Income CERB Amnesty.

Date 10 Mar, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

Since Canada’s economic relief packages went out, they have refunded clawbacks from seniors, given self-employed Canadians repayment amnesty, and partially provided relief for students. And, despite all that, they are now pursuing low-income Canadians to reclaim their benefits through clawbacks, wage reductions, or impossible-to-repay fines (upwards of $20,000 in some cases). This is not money that was put into a savings account ― people living in poverty need every dollar to meet their own basic needs. This money is gone. Pursuing repayment from people living below, at, or just above the poverty line will only exacerbate poverty and homelessness.

All of this will hurt those in already-difficult situations while the government has a different standard of accountability for businesses who accessed pandemic benefits.

All of this will worsen poverty while the government’s own stated goals are to reduce poverty.

Asking people to repay money they don’t have will only exacerbate poverty and the systemic challenges many already face ― we need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Please join us in supporting low-income CERB repayment amnesty for those who needed the relief the most and will be most impacted by these policies.

*This campaign has ended.

load more


Lenten 2023: Truth-Telling Calendar

Date 17 Feb, 2023

Category Ministry

This year’s theme for Spiritual Care at First United is truth-telling. During Advent, we pondered the truth and reconciliation journey in our podcast, An Uncomfortable Advent. Now, as we approach the Season of Lent, we again focus on truth-telling in our truth and reconciliation journey.

2023 Lenten Calendar:

Lenten Truth-Telling Calendar

Donations are suggested and encouraged but not required. At FIRST UNITED we practice community centric fundraising principles and want to highlight the impact that these organizations are making in the community. We encourage you to check them out and support them as you can.


This calendar will guide you during Lent, focusing on Call to Action #60. Some days have more than one link for you to click. On some Sundays, the link encourages you to share your story with us at FIRST UNITED. Some days are moredifficult than others. But all of the days help you focus on truth and reconciliation.

Although this Call to Action is directed at “leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres,” this Call to Action is really about all of us who make up the Body of Christ. We, as followers of Jesus the Christ, are called to build and sustain a community where we “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8) It is our responsibility to do this work with love and accountability, even when we are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.

The Lenten Season is where spring begins. Our spiritual lives can reflect that of creation, where the hard but rewarding work of growing can be seen above ground. Explore Call to Action #60 with us at FIRST UNITED.

We would like to thank the Chinook Winds Region’s Journey Towards Indigenous Allyship Toolkit, the United Church of Canada’s 40 Day of Engagement on Anti-Racism, Vancouver Public Library and their awesome Reference Librarians, and Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PCUSA’s 21-day Racial Justice Challenge. These resources and their links to source materials help all of us to the work of justice, the work of being good neighbors, and the work mandated in the Calls to Action.

Pama mine gwabmen,
(Potawatomi for “see y’all again” as there isn’t a word for casual goodbyes)

From FIRST UNITED’ Spiritual Care Team

Chaplain Lauren Sanders
Prairie Band Potawatomi/mshkodéni
Kickapoo Nation of Kansas/kiikaapoa
African American/Black

And Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard
Interim Spiritual Care Director



Blue Christmas Service

Date 21 Dec, 2022

Category Ministry

Blue Christmas Service for those of us feeling grief during the holiday season. Join interim Spiritual Care Director Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplin Lauren Sanders and Patti Powell in this honouring and healing service.

Blue Christmas Service for those of us feeling grief during the holiday season.

Advent Awakening Series: Part 6 Christmas

Date 21 Dec, 2022

Category Ministry

The following liturgy video and podcast episode are part of FIRST UNITED’s Spiritual Care ministry’s Advent Awakening series.

Advent Series – Merry Christmas!

Listen to the last episode from An Uncomfortable Advent podcast series by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain, and Pastor Peter Sanders, Ordained Clergy with Presbyterian Church USA:

The Arrival of Christmas

Watch the Christmas video by Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Interim Spiritual Care Director.

Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard has evolved a “WTF!? Where’s the Faith” ministry since 2009. Exploring the intersections of faith and other “F”’ words! What started as a youth group of Where’s the Faith, Where’s the Food and Where’s the Fun, has evolved into a philosophy and way of life.

May you have full confidence, belief and trust in the heavenly promises given to you…


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ( Hebrews 11: 1)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through who we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. ( Romans 5:1-2)

Faith is a belief that is not based on visible proof. It is a trust you can build upon.

Receive the gift of faith.

Rev Jen’s WTF!? Rant. Where’s the faith!? Words that flow.

With this faith, Willing to follow, Willing to fail, Willing to fall

Willing to feel, Wading through Fear,

With this faith, wandering thoughts flow, Watching time fly

Where’s truth found

Why truth first

Why trust faith

wondering thoughts fly

Welcome these Friends

Welcome those feelings

Wondrous things follow

When these fall

Western Theological Frameworks

White things first

Wanting things fast

Waging the fear

Words that frighten

When truth’s first

What’s the future Way to follow

With this faith

Willing to follow

Willing to forgive

Willing to forget

With truth first

Willingly Talk Faith

Words thoughtfully flow

Ways tenderly flourish

Wounds that fester

Welcome truth flowing

Welcome the fellowship

Welcome the feasting

Welcome the force 

I AM, The Way, The Truth, and the life!

Wearing the faith

Welcome the fellow traveler

Welcome the way maker

Welcome the friend we find in Jesus.

Welcome the Folx we meet here at First United.

Welcome the feelings of Hope, peace, joy, love, which live here.

Where’s the Faith!?

Amidst and amongst the people.

Where’s the faith!? With and for the people. All the people

 Where’s the faith!? Incarnation! God with us. The breath of life.

Wow! That’s fantastic.

Why truth first!? Because TRUTH Matters!

Here at First United and around the world.

Where’s the faith!? In you, with you, for you!

Born in us this day!

Amen and Merry Christmas. With love from Rev Jen!

Lighting the Advent Wreath: The Way Maker

Leader: Advent is the season of preparation and waiting.

(Light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love)

All: We have prayerful work to do.

Leader: The Advent season has ended.

All: With hope, peace, joy and love, the Christmas Season has arrived.

(Light the Christ Candle)

The light of Christ shines for all. A light of hope, peace, joy, and love for all. We will go and shine our Christ light in and for the world.

load more

Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks: July 2023

Date 17 Jul, 2023

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

For our July 2023 Toast Talks, we dedicate time to honour our old building at 320 East Hastings. Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares the latest FIRST UNITED news and redevelopment updates. We’re also joined by Dr. Sarah Marsden, Director of Systems Change and Legal, who shares findings from our BC Eviction Map.

Thank you to everyone who shared their memories of the building with us! Read some below:

From Linda M. Ervin:

In the early 80s First did a needle exchange and provided free feminine hygiene products. The reception staff were the ones who provided those items.

Bob St. John Graham, myself (Linda) with others had a Christmas Eve service where we served and agape meal every Christmas Eve. Coffee would brew while the service was on. One of the people that I assisted gave me $100 every year to buy smoked salmon and John Graham purchased the bagels. Folks lit candles and decorated the tree. It was a great night.

1983 the year BC citizens and workers fought back. First supported the strike and workers, provided meals. We lost and gained donors.

From Lorraine Powell

I attended First United when I started at VST with Rev. Garry Patterson there in 1989. I soon became involved with some of the serving lunch after church. Later I volunteered at WiSH once a week in the evening, and the ladies watched to make sure I was safe in the downtown to catch my bus back to VST. What a special time in ministry that helped me all through ministry.

From Susan DuMoulin

As a member of Canadian Memorial United Church, I enjoyed being part of our In From the Cold Ministry. Congregants would make beef stew which would be taken to the kitchen at First United where, along with vegetables, buttered bread, tea and coffee and ice cream for dessert. On our designated monthly Friday evening, a team of CMUC volunteers would serve people from the DTES community a hot meal during 2 seatings. Often, once people had finished their meals the table servers would sit at their table and visit with the guests. One member of our congregation played the piano during the meals. Those were good times.

From Heather Ross

Well I grew up in the First United Church, but it was the previous building. It was my Dad and his staff with lots of support from many people and agencies who built this last building so I am somewhat sad to see it go. But it served its purpose for a long time. So I have gone through this “unbuilding” and rebuilding process already so know that good things come out of the rubble and the future is filled with hope!

We’ve also included the digital version of the fall edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

Toast Talks: March 2023

Date 17 Mar, 2023

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

At our March 2023 Toast Talks, Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares highlights from our last fiscal year and The Reverend Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard talks about Spiritual Care.

Toast Talks: October 2022

Date 31 Oct, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

In our October 2022 edition of Toast Talks, Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares some updates, including some brief updates on the status of the redevelopment of our building. Staff Lawyer Sarah Marsden also joined us to share about all about our new eviction mapping project. 

Watch the recording below!

We’ve also included the digital version of the fall edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

First United Fall 2022 Newsletter

load more

Reconciliation in Action

FIRST UNITED Supports Calls to Search the Landfill

Date 21 Jul, 2023

Category Reconciliation in Action

The families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are calling on the Manitoba government to search the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of their murdered loved ones. FIRST UNITED echoes their calls, and stands in solidarity with Indigenous families, activists, and leaders asking for justice for all missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

One of our core values is social justice and we strive to put reconciliation into action as an organization—this is why we’re joining the calls for government action, even provinces away. Justice and reconciliation have no borders. Taking action against injustice is all of our responsibility, whether in our backyard or across the country.

We invite you to be an advocate too, to speak out and apply pressure to the Manitoba and federal governments to look for Morgan and Marcedes and return them to their families.

How you can take action:

Read Manitoba, do the right thing. Search the landfills by Tanya Talaga: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-manitoba-do-the-right-thing-search-the-landfills/

Read Reclaiming Power and Place: the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/

Write to Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, asking her government to action a search at the Prairie Green landfill: https://www.gov.mb.ca/minister/premier/index.html

Visit the United Church of Canada Facebook and Instagram to download and share social media graphics including Facebook page banners, and profile pictures. https://www.facebook.com/UnitedChurchCda

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day

Date 16 Jun, 2023

Category Reconciliation in Action

Guest post by Avery Delaney (Blackfoot), Indigenous Outreach Coordinator for FIRST UNITED

National Indigenous Peoples Day is an annual celebration that honors the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of Indigenous communities across Turtle Island (what is commonly known as North America). This day provides a platform to showcase the diverse cultures, languages, foods, arts, music, and dance of Indigenous peoples. Festivals, powwows, cultural events, and workshops are organized to share traditional practices and foster appreciation for Indigenous heritage. These celebrations often involve storytelling, traditional ceremonies, art exhibitions, and performances that highlight the vibrant and distinct Indigenous identities.

The origins of National Indigenous Peoples Day can be traced back to 1982 when the National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations, called for the creation of a national holiday to celebrate Indigenous cultures and achievements. This day also signifies the summer solstice as the longest day of the year. On June 13, 1996, the Governor General of Canada proclaimed June 21st as National Aboriginal Day, which was later renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2017 to better reflect the inclusive nature of the celebration.

One of the primary goals of National Indigenous Peoples Day is to promote education and raise awareness about Indigenous histories, rights, and the ongoing challenges that Indigenous communities across Turtle Island encounter. Educational institutions, museums, community centers, and online platforms play a crucial role in providing resources, workshops, and presentations to encourage the understanding and respect for Indigenous cultures. This day is also a time to reflect on the history of colonization and its impact on Indigenous peoples. By promoting understanding and respect, this day contributes to the ongoing journey of reconciliation, and building stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

I invite you to explore this list of local Indigenous businesses as one way to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day:


Wolf Pack Apparel
Decolonial Clothing
Ay Lelum
LadyBear Designs
Three Sisters by Emma
Scott Wabano
Anishinaabe Bimishimo
Lesley Hampton
Copper Canoe Woman


Sisters Sage


Spirit Bear Coffee Company
Salmon and Bannock
Mr. Bannock


Raven Reads
Talaysay Tours


Iskwew Air
Skwachàys Lodge


Spirit Works

Revisiting Our Totem Pole Ceremony

Date 12 Jun, 2023

Category Reconciliation in Action

Our building at 320 East Hastings is currently being demolished and we’re feeling a little nostalgic. Just a little over a year ago, we were moving our programs out of our old building to prepare for hazardous material removal and demolition. Part of that preparation was safely moving the totem pole that was in our dining hall to a temporary location.

This day was very special to us. It’s unusual to take down a totem pole in order to re-raise it, so this was a very unique ceremony. With National Indigenous Peoples Day coming up (June 21st), we wanted to share one way that we got to celebrate Indigenous work and culture.

On May 20, 2022, First United staff worked together to move the totem pole that had been living in the dining hall at 320 East Hastings to the garage of our administrative office. The totem pole was carved by Bernie Williams (Skundaal), of the Haida Gwaii Nation, and other First Nations carvers in 2010. It was a gift for those experiencing homelessness in the Downtown Eastside, and a way to remember the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people.

Here is a short excerpt from last year’s First Things First Summer Newsletter, detailing the Totem Pole Ceremony:

On January 10, 2010, the pole was raised in our dining hall and unveiled by Elders and Chiefs of the Coast Salish Territory and of the Haida Gwaii Nation. Twelve years later, on May 20, 2022, Bernie Williams helped guide us in taking it down before the building at 320 East Hastings is demolished. Surrounded by a circle of staff, and members of her family, Bernie shared memories of the work done all those years ago. Her nephew John drummed and sang the Coast Salish anthem, a song taught to him by his father. Bernie then called on staff to take the totem pole to its new, temporary location.

Read the full story “Carved With Courage, Moved With Care”

load more

Recent Updates

14 Aug, 2023
Demand drug policy changes to save lives
read more
11 Aug, 2023
Op-ed: No one should be prevented from using air conditioners in their home
read more
21 Jul, 2023
FIRST UNITED Supports Calls to Search the Landfill
read more