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Text alerts coming to Downtown Eastside 0

By Jane Deacon

A Downtown Eastside resident holds a cellphone handed out to people through a community program. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

A Downtown Eastside resident holds a cellphone handed out to people through a community program. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

Downtown Eastside residents can now receive emergency information by text message thanks to a new program.

 

This month, Vancouver Community Network will launch Street Messaging System, an online and text-based service that will send emergency alerts to subscribers, from information on a “bad batch” to missing persons alerts and other health-related messages. The system will also have up-to-date information on shelter bed availability, food providers and rehabilitation programs.

The hope is that the immediacy of text messages will provide a direct line to people who are typically difficult to reach, said Tracey Axelsson, executive director of VCN. The idea struck her last winter while she was posting emergency weather information on a downtown building and wondered about a more effective system.

Despite misconceptions, many homeless and at-risk individuals have cellphones and Internet access, said Axelsson.

“For people who are on the streets or otherwise lead complicated lives, (a cellphone) is a lifeline,” she said. “If you don’t have a home, you have a phone. It is your number one way of having people contact you and being connected to people around you.”

The system is currently operational and VCN will undertake an outreach campaign to meet a goal of 200 subscribers by winter, along with partner with service agencies to contribute information to the system.

The pilot program will centre solely on the Downtown Eastside, with potential to expand the network in the future.

The system has the support of Judy Graves, Vancouver’s longtime advocate for the homeless. While this type of information is currently available, it doesn’t exist in one co-ordinated place that’s updated in real time, she said.

With a push to help the homeless and those living in poverty becoming more Internet savvy in recent years, this system will reach people in a medium they’re already using, she added.

“If people are looking for information, they often need it right now,” said Graves. “The system that (VCN) is putting together has the potential to deliver that to them.”

 

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