The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, and is also very complicated. The neighbourhood is home to about 18,500 residents, many of whom face the difficult realities of poverty (poorest off-reserve postal code in North America), addiction (4700 injection drug users with high rates of HIV and Hepatitis C), mental illness (at least 1 in 5 residents diagnosed, many more undiagnosed), and inadequate housing (4000 underhoused in SRO buildings, at least 800 homeless). It is also a neighbourhood where all kinds of people feel welcome and included, no matter how they look, where they’ve been, or what they’re struggling with. The DTES is full of beautiful, creative, kind, hospitable, resilient people who bear the image of God. Jacob’s Well is located right in the heart of this neighbourhood. We like it here, and we think it’s where Jesus might hang out if He were in Vancouver today.
In 1976, at the age of 60, a woman by the name of Pauline Fell began walking the streets of the DTES. Although she was a new Christian, she asked God what He wanted her to do with her life, and felt His prompting to befriend people in the neighbourhood. For the next 25 years, almost every day, she faithfully walked the streets and alleys, and visited the bars, prisons, local hospitals and hotels where her many friends could be found. She is known to many as “sister” or “mom,” and virtually everyone in the neighbourhood respects this elderly woman.
In November 2000, Pauline felt God urging her to give her inheritance away before she died. She pondered this, and believing that God wasn’t speaking to her about money, she asked what her inheritance was. Immediately she saw faces flashing before her, hundreds of faces of the people that she had become friends with over the past 25 years. She realized that the many friendships she had built were a rich inheritance, and that it would be squandered if she didn’t pass them on before the end of her life. Her love for God and for the people of the DTES compelled her to seek out others who would be willing to be friends with her friends, in the hopes of experiencing the love of Christ in community. Jacob’s Well was directly birthed out her diligence and obedience.
In June 2001, Pauline and a few friends opened the doors of the storefront at 239 Main Street. No one had any clear idea as to what would happen at Jacob’s Well, but they had a lot of faith that God would help them sort it out. Indeed, God brought Joyce Heron (now Joyce Rees) to that first meeting, and Pauline discerned that Joyce should run Jacob’s Well. Joyce began gathering a community of people to continue the friendship-building work that Pauline had begun. Pauline chose to move into an assisted living building in 2008. Over the course of the next seven years, Pauline felt called to share the love of God with the men and women who lived alongside her at the assisted living facility. She was often seen praying over others in the dining hall and inviting her neighbours into her room for tea and biscuits. In 2015, Pauline passed away at 99 years of age. While she is sorely missed, we strive to keep her legacy alive through the Jacobs’ Well community.
MAJOR EVENTS IN OUR COMMUNITY’S HISTORY
2001 – Dawn Humphreys and Joyce Rees begin weekly times of prayer & worship at Jacob’s Well, as well as regular food deliveries to friends who are shut-in. Joyce continues as Jacob’s Well’s first Executive Director.
2002 – Andy Shaver joins the Jacob’s Well staff. Community Kitchen begins on Tuesday nights, with food cooked upstairs with residents from the Jubilee Hotel. We have Jubilee parties, and our first Weekend Workshop.
2003 – Jane Halton and Stephen Hitchcock join the Jacob’s Well staff. We have the privilege of baptizing our friend Shawn.
2004 – Tom Wuest is hired, and begins to dream up Red Clover Farms, Jacob’s Well’s community gardens. We do our first summer trip to serve with the Okanagan Gleaners.
2006 – Renovations are completed. Weekly shares from the gardens are sold, and we enjoy weekly lunches in the garden with colleagues.
2008 – Tom and Karen Wuest move to Galiano Island and found Isidore’s Plough, a space for work and retreat. At Red Clover Farms, we battle a rat infestation!
2009 – Sharon Smith is hired as Executive Director. We begin having weekly Friday coffee times.
2011 – Jacob’s Well survives a major flood and celebrates ten years of life together. We partner with other communities around Welfare Wednesday Parties.
2012 – Alberto and Tony go on Jacob’s Well’s first “mission trip” to Vietnam! A new staff health fund is established, as we grieve the death of one of our most passionate community members, Sue Stewart.
2013 – We begin to invite friends to participate in monthly Variety Shows. Dawn Humphreys leaves the Jacob’s Well staff team to focus full-time on her pastoral role at Strathcona Vineyard Church, and Yolanda Bonkowski joins the staff team later that year.
2014 – Our friend Harry received a grant that allowed him to host a series of water colour painting classes which he incorporated into our Wednesday afternoon art time. Long-time staff member Beth Malena moves on from Jacob’s Well and Jacqueline Dewar joins the staff team.
2015 – We received a grant that allowed us to coordinate a community mural project, the mural can be seen at the corner of Heatley & E Hastings St. The Jacob’s Well community also lost a number of good friends this year, including Barry LeMaigre, Harry Schievink, and our founder, Pauline Fell.