The DTES Response Project | 2020
“When it became obvious that COVID-19 was a threat to the already vulnerable residents, a handful of community advocates sprang into action. They knew that frequent hand washing was one of the most important ways to combat COVID-19 — however, how do you wash your hands if you don’t even have soap?” Cue DTES Response within less than a week’s time.
An urgent call for support from a community advocacy group went out through one of my creative collective communities, the ShiftDisturber‘s via our Slack communications space, the ask was, “We need 5000 bars of soap for SRO tenants in crowded living environments and no way to self isolate.”
March 17 evening
An ad hoc collective of ShiftDistubers showed up for the Zoom call to meet the community advocates on Mar 17. That night, despite a lot of unknowns and what was being asked for (especially since I couldn’t make the first half of the meeting), I decided based on the needs presented, along with no one wanting to lead, I volunteered myself as the Project Lead and worked to determine the hierarchy of needs and devise a strategy and roadmap.
The next day, I connected directly with the SRO community advocate lead from DTES SRO Collaborative to understand the challenges and needs. By the end of the day, I began to reach out to fellow creative community members who had offered assistance to find those with immediate availability.
We would maintain COVID-19 Response daily Zoom morning check-ins to collaborate our efforts.
After the morning meeting, I discovered that two divergent focuses were emerging and quickly worked to redefined what was needed. Both SRO tenants and those residents not part of the SRO were needing hygiene supplies and other support, which could come from public donations which meant Covid exposure risks and thus they had begun to design the logistics of doing so without the support of the city, OR we raise funds from the public to purchase what is needed for immediate and future needs. I now had the challenge of balancing the ad-hoc community activism along with the responsibility of building and maintaining transparency and trust with the public and private supporters and donors, where collaboration is important. I needed to ensure that all efforts I was leading and later to be a part of adhered to maintain the degree of integrity we needed to strive for. I didn’t want to have outcomes that included putting people at risk and gathering public donations plus sanitization then distribution done in a rush wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. In my thinking, this created a need to separate the fundraising efforts from the rest of the response activities.
Anticipating the need for both a fundraiser and a couple of communication specialists with expertise dealing with non-profits, private donors and foundations, I was fortunate to bring on board three. Having all three aligned with my assessment of needs, we created an agency for getting what needed to be done fast.
Day 3 – DTES Response was born
Our little ad hoc team became the DTES Response team, and we began to work on getting massive quantities of hygiene products to residents, as well as launch an ambitious fundraising campaign, DTES Response Fund. The minimum viable product we required were: a website; a MailChimp newsletter/email sign-up; social media accounts; fundraising press release; fundraising back-end (bank account set up with chequing acct; fund receiving agent with charitable status for donation receipts; schedule for funds release; fundraising advisory team, online donation platform), communicate with the wider DTES community, and list of groups requesting funding. Our team consisted of, in order joining: myself (Project Lead/Mgr + Visual/Web Designer), Steve (non-profit community liaison), Kathy (community network coordinator), and Amanda (fundraiser/communications).
Day 6 (March 23)
We launched the DTES Response fundraising campaign to raise donations to support urgent needs. We coordinated ground efforts of donations and fundraising to help the DTES communities who were already under immense strain trying to manage the oncoming threats and challenges with Covid-19. Basic needs were no longer fully available to those who relied on it due to partial lock-down procedures, so this meant our efforts needed to include food, personal hygiene, communication tools (mobile phones and calling cards), and donations of all sorts.
We further discussed officially separating our efforts with the SRO advocates group as it was presenting as a risk to continue to collaborate within the same meetings. Also, we wanted to respect each group’s valuable time and wanted to take away the complexity of having to work with an ethical wall in our meetings. We planned for separation within a week, allowing transitioning of roles and responsibilities, as well as delegate and divide the data/content management I had set up as a whole.
DTES Response separated from the community advocacy group along with their activities to act independently from our fundraising and community network support. Another reason why I felt strongly early on to separate the projects was that some members of the advocacy group belonged to various non-profits whom we may end up granting funds. My team agreed with the suggestion to separate avoid blurred lines.
We also implemented an honorarium system for those the team who were not employed elsewhere with a full-time salary, to honour the work and effort put in as a huge ‘thank you,’ and help make the ongoing workload and time spend sustainable.
Day 14 – April 1 to June 18
We began hosting our own meetings and adjusted to have them twice a week. I had transferred all of my project coordination data into Asana once defined roles and processes for clarified for each team member to take ownership. I began to gently reduce my time spent as a manager and focus on specific tasks as our triage phase was transitioning into the maintenance phase.
I ran a point as long as it was necessary, working to phase out my role as project lead and along with a few others, we phased out certain roles on June 18th as the dust had settled and processes ran smoother each week, demanding less time. I did remain on call to take care of website & content, communication design as well as be an ongoing member of the fund disbursement advisory committee. Both the fundraiser and community network coordinator remained on as well, as needed. Between the 3 of us, we could keep the project going part-time/as needed.
Since our DTES Response Fund launched, we’ve been continually amazed at what has been accomplished with the combined efforts of our team and the public’s support. We celebrated at our 6-month mark with a total sum raised of $400,000 +. Then there was the donation of many goods from local companies and small public groups with sanitation supplies and protective wearables. I also led the initial community liaison efforts, acting as a network enabler to connect different offers of services and goods to those who seek it.
DTES Response Fund’s chronological achievements, which surpassed my imagination as this was a first time fundraising campaign project:
- 1 week+: $84,500
- April 8: distributed the first batch of grants to local community groups
- 1 month (April 23): $150,000
- 3 months (June 23): $328,000 & we added a Community Circle program for monthly donors wanting to provide hot meals.
- 6 months (Sept 23): $400,000 and counting
- See a detailed timeline with additional campaigns at the top of the post.
By mid-June, the DTES Response efforts were redefined for having responded in two main ways:
- Community Grants – Providing funds to help cover costs for front-line groups and organizations that directly support vulnerable populations. We have so far supported 29 not-for-profit groups and organizations. (see link for more details.)
- Community Projects – Providing support to groups with programs that provide fresh meals or the distribution of donated goods to the community. A community network coordinator and volunteers ensure efforts become sustainable through funding by the DTES Response, manpower volunteer assistance, or coaching support by the coordinator. (see link for more details.)
Why it Worked
- Aligned Purpose-driven efforts
- Project Lead acting as Mission Control using Collaborative Leadership to allow for ad hoc development and deployment.
- Agile Design and Development
- Design Thinking & Service Design
- Having an extended circle of colleagues be my sounding board
- Work to each person’s strengths
- Alignment of values
- In the early stage of the crisis, a surge of action takers provided agency before surge capacity reached for everyone around the 1-month mark.
- Those who are multidisciplinary and unafraid to wear many hats, even if they are new hats, made sure work was done despite limitations. E.g. I worked 90 hrs/wk for two weeks to ensure project launch was a success, from project mgmt, coordination, web design/dev/deployment, branding, collaborating on communications, social media coverage, and people mgmt.
- Collaborative teamwork vs. going rogue
- timeframe – working with the available time of individuals, some worked full-time, others like myself cleared schedule to ensure success
- Surge capacity was reached after week 2 for some. It meant there was a noticeable shift in personal focus, from the project to the self.
- Maintaining the core values when individual motivations began to surface.
- Less experienced personnel came to me to open up on stress, struggles and needed mentoring. Their surge capacity was reached much sooner as they needed more support.
- Google Drive, Docs, Sheets
- Facebook Page