The Evolution of the JHS in the Lower Mainland & Fraser Valley

The legacy of the John Howard Society in Canada is deep-seated in British Columbia.

Our Canadian roots were established in Vancouver in 1929 by people who observed unjust social conditions and chose to tackle important issues in their community. Fast forward to 1932, when the John Howard Society of BC become incorporated as a non-profit organization in Vancouver; to 1989, with the incorporation of the John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland; fast forward again to present day, and you’ll find that we’ve done a lot of growing as an organization.

In today’s post, we’re taking you on a journey through our past and walking you through the evolution of the John Howard Society in the Lower Mainland. At least, in part; packing 30+ years of work into one blog post isn’t easy, but as our core values say, we do not shy away from touch challenges.

While the JHSLM wasn’t incorporated until the late ‘80s, we’ve been delivering services to vulnerable populations throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley since the early ‘30s.

In 1931, we began supporting people incarcerated in correctional institutions; something that we continue to do today, nearly 90 years later. We also opened Hobden House, our first Community-Based Residential Facility (CRF; Also known as a halfway house) prior to being incorporated, back in 1984. Still in operation today, it’s since been joined by three more CRFs throughout our region.
A photo of Hobden House, our first CRF which is still in operation today

In 1970, a Native Courtworker pilot project was initiated here in BC.  Under the management of the John Howard Society, the project expanded and in 1972, became the Native Courtworker Association. In 1973, it began delivering counselling services and became the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC. Today, they are a provincial organization providing services to Indigenous people who face barriers as they seek access to justice and health.

Fast forward to the rise of the 21st century, and you’ll find that we’ve since continued to dip our toes, in various capacities, in efforts and initiatives that support and advocate for people experiencing complex challenges at the regional and provincial level. Here are some more examples of how we’ve been a trusted voice on social and criminal justice issues in our community:

While the John Howard Society, generally speaking, is most known for its role in criminal justice, we deliver programming that goes far beyond that here in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

We often get asked why that is, particularly related to our robust continuum of services that assist people with developmental disabilities, and others experiencing complex barriers to independence and inclusion.

Why, when, and how did the JHSLM begin delivering these kinds of services?

It all started in 1998.

While adults with developmental disabilities receiving government assistance are now supported by Community Living BC (CLBC), back in the ‘90s, before the crown agency was born, they were supported by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

In 1998, MCFD asked us to provide residential services to an adult under their care who required support from an agency with expertise in supporting people with criminal justice system. As experts in this field, we were happy to collaborate to support this individual.

This was the seed that grew into our suite of services supporting people under the care of CLBC, as well as other programs that serve people with complex needs more generally.

From there, we began getting more referrals to support people in both residential and outreach capacities. Initially, referrals were specific to people impacted by the criminal justice system, but as we continued to demonstrate expertise in assisting people with complex needs more generally, we began receiving a wide range of referrals including those that had no criminal justice experience at all.

We began supplementing our residential services to include Home Share options in 2005.

Interestingly, that very first MCFD funded program in 1998 never stopped; it ended up becoming our most long-standing Community Living Service program – Vancouver Apartments.

Our Community Living Services have expanded significantly since then, both in terms of people served and our geographical reach. Jen, our Director of Community Living Services, explains why further:

“When I became a Manager of Community Living Services, the JHS Fraser Valley was its own entity. They had an interest in partnering with us to begin delivering CLBC-funded services in their region… there was a great need for it in other regions, just as there was need here in the Lower Mainland. Once we amalgamated [in 2012], we started to expand a range of programs into the region.”

She also emphasized that programs have expanded due to the rising need for services that support people with complex needs.

If you look at our current climate, look at the referral base, it’s really changed. You’re seeing more situations that are more complex, which has a lot to do with the opioid crisis and the housing crisis… so CLBC is finding a lot more people under their care with complex needs, and we’re able to support them.”

– Jen, our Director of Community Living Services

We have also expanded  other programs and services in the Fraser Valley (and in the Lower Mainland) over the years, such as our housing continuum, employment programming, and justice services.

For example, we opened up a new CRF, Elliott House, in 2013 and have worked to transform our other Abbotsford-based CRF to deliver enhanced Indigenous support services to residents: Miyáqˈelhá:wetawt.​

“It was clear that there was a significant gap in the services being provided to Indigenous peoples. There was a lot of great progress being made in bringing Indigenous-focused supports within the institutions, but coming out into the community, especially in the Fraser Valley, there was a distinct gap in services”

– Pam, our Director of Justice Services

This led us to develop Miyáqˈelhá:wetawt in collaboration with Indigenous communities from the Sto:lo nation among others.

As we enter a new decade, we continue to see our organization grow both in terms of the range of services being delivered and the number of people that we can support.

We are in the midst of expanding the number of housing units that we can provide to vulnerable peoples who are precariously housed; we are strengthening our partnerships with  community-based organizations and governments to improve the coordination of service delivery; we continue to lead and contribute to provincial and regional efforts to assist our community such as through our upcoming Leadership Gathering; and we continue to expand our employment and education programming.

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, it’s hard to condense 30+ years of growth into a single blog post, and that’s why we’re excited to continue exploring programs of the past, and our vision for the future in future posts.

This post is a part of a featured series celebrating John Howard Society Week 2020, an annual campaign that spreads awareness of the incredible work being carried out by John Howard Societies across Canada. To learn more about the JHS across the country, click here.