Supply chain issues leave Vancouver charity without vehicle replacement

An organization that offers outreach services to some of the most vulnerable in Vancouver has been critically impacted by the automobile supply shortage after its vehicle broke down.

The Mobile Access Project (MAP Van) has been providing outreach services to street-based sex workers for more than 15 years. WISH Drop-In Centre Society Executive Director Mebrat Beyene says the resources provided have been “a line of defence,” which makes it “deeply concerning” that most of the services this van offers will have to pause until a replacement can be found. 

“This is one of the programs that for a lot of street-based sex workers, it might be the only support that they’re accessing, or might be the only social service, might be the only resource. And in fact, a lot of the folks that access the van, they don’t even come to our drop-in or shelter,” Beyene explained. 

“The fact that it’s getting rougher out there, it’s getting harder to work out there, it’s getting more dangerous to work out there, nobody can afford to lose a resource,” Beyene said. “The support that the van provides, it’s a harbour of safety.”

Last year alone, the MAP Van provided 108,718 sterile needles, 53,672 condoms and 65,999 food and drinks.

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“The van has everything from harm reduction supplies for safe substance-using, safe sex [and] harm reduction supplies, meals, snacks, clothing, donations. There’s all kinds of information and referral that we’re handing out. There’s Bad Date Reporting that we’re taking in. There is dirty needles … [Additionally] first aid … feminine hygiene, hygiene products, anything that the van can hold.”

The van runs every day from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and is “meeting street-based sex workers where they’re at and where they’re working.”

The van phone is still in service, so Beyene confirmed those who are texting and calling the van are still able to get support. In addition, people can drop into the WISH shelter or outdoor respite area.

This is the fourth van over the course of the program’s history. Beyene says the van has been on the road since the summer of 2015 but what’s unique about finding a replacement this time is the “unbelievable impact of global supply line issues.”

(Courtesy WISH Drop-In Centre/ Facebook)

Despite the organization securing funding from the province to purchase and customize a new van, the supply simply doesn’t exist, Beyene explained. 

The same global supply issue also deterred the organization’s plan to secure a temporary vehicle if the van let out. 

The costly price attached with renting or leasing is also not an option because of a lack of funding to cover the cost of the increasing prices. 

WISH is still working with the City of Vancouver who are searching for available City owner’s vehicles. “We’re hopeful that something will come through, but even that might not happen till July,” Beyene said. 

The organization is on a waitlist for a replacement vehicle, however Beyene says it could take up to six to 12 months. 

WISH is looking for a vehicle in good enough condition to withstand roughly 3000 kilometres a month, ideally full height for staff, enough space in the bag to carry all of the supplies, and can be ready to hit the road right away. 

“So in other words, a minivan isn’t ideal,” Beyene said. “We could make it work if it’s seats that can come down or be removed altogether in the back … [we are] even … willing to consider multiple temporary vans that we may need to trade in trade out — if any become available.”

“We’re going to look to see if there’s any kinds of modified versions of delivering the program that we can do, which is a little bit harder to do because the point of it is the reach outside of the Downtown Eastside and being able to respond to folks in multiple parts of the city.”

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