On assistance, can work: The unrealized employment potential in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood is home to around 2400 welfare recipients, many of whom can and want to work, but experience barriers in doing so. Many engage in a continuum of income generating activities that creates pathways from informal work to traditional employment. Currently there is inadequate movement along the continuum due to multiple systemic barriers. To understand these barriers, I undertake a qualitative thematic analysis of primary interview data with welfare recipients, representatives from community organizations/social enterprises in the DTES, and social policy experts. Using a series of evaluative criteria, I combine primary research findings with the literature to assess five policy options. I recommend a combination of these options to reduce administrative barriers, recognize the income generation continuum, and increase the financial incentive to work. This recommendation is designed to facilitate movement along the continuum and enhance economic security and well-being for DTES welfare recipients.