Supportive Employment Program
The majority of women who access support at WISH rely on sex work as their sole source of income. In a criminalized street-based sex trade, this leaves women vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.
Without alternative sources of income, sex-working women are often forced to take dangerous dates that they might otherwise avoid, putting themselves at great risk.
For those women who wish to reduce their reliance on sex work and seek mainstream employment, the opportunities are limited and the barriers are high.
Some of those barriers include (but are not limited to) not having held a mainstream job in years, if ever; criminal records preventing employment opportunities; stigma; loss of confidence; near homelessness and homelessness, poverty, and addictions.
When attempting to seek mainstream employment, women described the stigma and harassment they experienced explaining recent or former involvement in the sex trade, their anxiety about cutting off social assistance, and their fear of leaving the comforts of the safe and inclusive environment at WISH.
As a preliminary step to address some of these barriers, WISH amalgamated its existing Peer Volunteer Program (PVP) and Peer Safety Patrol (PSP) into a structured program, the Supportive Employment Program (SEP).
The SEP provides women with opportunities to develop skills, experience, and confidence within a safe working environment at WISH. The women start working in the PVP, our lowest-barrier entry point, and transition into PSP when they are ready.
While the PVP and PSP provide a safe, supportive, and much-needed entry point to mainstream employment, there are a limited number of opportunities available, and the scope of employment is limited.
More critically, they do not address some of the wider systemic barriers the women identified: for example, lack of access to adequate medical and mental health care, the lack of stable housing, and the stigma associated with sex work.
Based on requests from participants, in January we started a new, third tier of opportunity within the SEP for women looking for mainstream employment opportunities in the community.
The Supportive Employment Program is funded by The Sprott Foundation, the BC Gaming and Enforcement Branch, Vancity, Face the World Foundation , the Lohn Foundation, Ivanhoé Cambridge (Metropolis at Metrotown).