The MOTHERS Pilot Project: Social enterprise and Participatory Video with binners in Victoria, BC

According to the 2007 Homeless Needs Survey, there are nearly 1200 homeless people in Greater Victoria, and although some shelter space is available, there is an urgent need to address immediate emergency shelter. A significant number of Victoria’s street community engages in binning, the collection of recyclables from the urban environment including industrial and city garbage bins for their livelihood.  In 2007, the Communities-based Research Laboratory (CBRL) at the University of Victoria conducted participatory-based research with the binning community in Victoria, interviewing 156 binners, of which 63% were homeless (click here for the full research report).  Binning provides an important income source and it also contributes to improving environmental health through resource recovery. 

Typically binners transport recovered materials in shopping carts, which is not a proper solution for the binners themselves, for business or the wider community.  Shopping carts also generate significant noise in residential areas creating a negative public image and hence re-enforcing the marginalization of this population.  There are alternative solutions to this problem such as the Urban Binning Unit, a cart designed specifically for binning.  Providing binners with adequate infrastructure and a support network dignifies their work and provides economic opportunities.

The MOTHERS project aims to empower and improve the quality of life of binners by providing 4 specially-designed bicycles and tent-trailers that will facilitate income generation opportunities.  Tony’s Trailers has already made a few custom-designed bicycles available to a number of homeless people in Victoria, many of who now use them to generate income through binning. Each bicycle includes a trailer that converts into one-person tent that allows discrete, mobile shelter from the elements. Preliminary responses from those currently using these trailers confirm a significant improvement to the overall health, income and quality of their lives.

This project is part of an on-going CBRL research initiative on Participatory Video (PV), funded by theInternational Development Research Council (IDRC), in which 10 binners have been trained in storyboard development, conducting interviews and video/editing technology.  Similar research has been conducted in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the spring 2008 with recycling cooperatives participating in the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and headed by Dr. Jutta Gutberlet, director of the CBRL. 

This participatory project aims to build the capacity and empowerment of binners, providing an opportunity to voice their opinions and experiences on issues that are important to them.  The videos will also be used to evaluate and showcase the MOTHERS cart initiative as an innovative response to homelessness and poverty in Victoria. 

This project is carried out in collaboration with Philippe Lucas (University of Victoria, Studies in Policy and Practice Program), the Committee to End Homelessness, VIPIRG, MediaNet, Tony’s Trailors, and the CBRL, funded by VanCity and IDRC.