Ray-Cam Co-Operative Community Centre has been the heart of Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood for more than 40 years, and while it’s still thriving the centre is in need of a significant upgrade.
Originally built in 1976 the community centre on the eastern edge of the Downtown Eastside has expanded over the years. It currently provides much needed services for more than 6,000 members. And the well-loved space is starting to show its age.
The centre is bursting at the seams. Meeting rooms do double duty as storage areas with diapers, snacks and supplies stacked against the walls. The gym and weight-rooms leak, and an inadequate, and chronically broken furnace, means parts of the centre are freezing in the winter. There are only two public washrooms.
“This is kind of like the living room of the community,” says coordinator Kate Hodgson, standing between the pool and foosball tables just inside the main entrance. “This space is our games room. A lot of the community centres it would be a separate room but this is seniors and young people, everybody mixing. It’s like the community living room and that’s kind of the best way to describe Ray-Cam. A lot of people say that it’s home, it’s family, and all of the programs are free.”
There is a movement afoot to see a renewed Ray-Cam. Hodgson says the vision includes a new community centre with more childcare spaces and more room for the increasing number of programs offered at the centre. Also important is a residential component.
Residents involved in the community-visioned redevelopment have already secured in-principle support from B.C. Housing for the construction and financing of a residential component, pending a commitment of municipal funding for a new community centre.
Residents in the community are worried about the future of Ray-Cam.
“If they don’t expand on this place it will slowly go,” said Sherry Murray. “When we come here, we bring our children here, our grandchildren here. When you think of things you need help with, you come here and share and ask because you trust people here.”
“If the City is serious about building housing for low income people then they need to step up and invest in Ray-Cam, this is an opportunity to provide housing and invest in our community,” notes board member Guy Wakeman.
Ray-Cam exists under a unique partnership — the land is owned by the province and has been granted in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of local residents. The centre is jointly operated by the Ray-Cam cooperative, the city and the park board.
Green Coun. Adrian Carr has a motion going before city council Tuesday seeking to have staff review the proposal renewal project so that it can be considered as part of the city’s 2019-2022 capital plan.
“The potential for new senior government funding and the hard work that local residents and partners have put into getting this Ray-Cam renewal project ready to go convinces me that the City must consider funding it through our upcoming capital plan,” Carr said in a press release. “Thinking of the needs of the community, it’s a great opportunity that the City can’t afford to miss.”
She’s getting support from her council colleagues on both sides.
“Ray-Cam Co-operative Community Centre has provided generations of lower income families and residents in east Vancouver with critical services and created community that sustains and endures,” said Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer. “With the recent commitment from BC Housing, and a focus on poverty reduction and community services from the new provincial government, it’s the right time for the City to signal our interest in the next generation of Ray-Cam.”
NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova is also on board. “Ray-Cam is integral to the community of the Downtown Eastside,” she said. “The impact of the resources this community centre provides to the neighbourhood is immeasurable. Like many Vancouver community centres, Ray-Cam is in great need of renewal. With the possibility of partnerships and funding from other levels of government to revitalize the centre, it is important that the City explores opportunities to provide funding for this project. Finding funds for projects can be difficult, but I am hopeful that we will find the resources necessary to support this grassroots community led initiative.”