Downtown Coalition disbands

Mission’s Downtown Coalition has been disbanded and the Red Card Program, which it oversees, will be phased out by the end of June.The coalition was a select committee for the district, formed more than six years ago to bring together social agencies and community and business members to address issues concerning downtown. It disbanded last month after a review suggested its services were being duplicated.The community outgrew the Red Card Program and even as last fall’s spaghetti western fundraising dinner was being planned, organizers were analyzing its future and the group’s original mandate, said coalition member Coun. Heather Stewart.The Red Card was introduced in 2004 as a way to help the homeless and panhandlers without giving them money. People can purchase a card for $2, and the recipient can receive items such as a meal, bus ticket, a shower, toiletries, and a clothing voucher.At its peak, more than 100 people were using the card and Mission Community Services (MCS), which manages the program, couldn’t afford to fund the meals, explained Stewart. Over the years, support services have been stepped up in the community, making the program obsolete, said Stewart, who is uncertain of the number of cards still circulating, but noted there are fewer panhandlers now.“That signifies they are getting food somewhere else.”The coalition also provided networking opportunities, but as the use of the Red Card decreased so did its membership.The Outreach Network, representing 12 local organizations, made the recommendation to discontinue the Red Card and outlined other resources available for those needing a meal and other services, such as showers, bus tickets and laundry facilities.Free meals are available seven days a week at various locations downtown, including the Mission Friendship Centre, Union Gospel Mission and Street Hope Station X. Showers, laundry service and daily snacks are available at UGM. MCS will continue to manage the program until June 30, and the $4,500 raised at the recent fundraiser will be divided equally among the three organizations providing daily meals.MCS executive director Tony Lapointe did not return calls from The Record by press time.