Safe Respite Program
As hundreds in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside struggled to meet the most basic necessities due to COVID-19, the Safe Respite area at WISH has become a critical space for street-based sex workers. Described as a “vital necessity” by participants, WISH’s 24/7 outdoor, safe respite area highlights the crucial need for life-essential services and spaces to exist in a safe, accessible location.
Housed on WISH’s backlot, the space provides overdose prevention (read more below), peer-to-peer support, access to our Drop-In, emergency Shelter and all other WISH programs.
75% of WISH participants using the space identified as having disabilities
80% are homeless or precariously housed
More than a quarter of the folks coming to the respite area used the space more than once a day
The space also allowed for the creation of overdose prevention through the Peer Witnessing Program staffed by peers in the WISH Supportive Employment Program. The new positions employ the rich expertise of 35 peers to protect against, and reverse, accidental overdoses should they happen. This is a critical health and safety response as the poisoned drug supply continues.
More than 1,000 crack kits distributed to participants per month
Peers gave out almost 20 Narcan kits every month
Peers helped facilitate more than 50 health referrals every month
More than 450 participants served each month by the Peer Witnessing and Peer Safety staff
Since the start of the Peer Witnessing Program, WISH has responded to over 180 overdoses. The need for safe, accessible, 24/7 overdose prevention is critical. The increased isolation, closure of safe spaces and public facilities due to COVID-19, and an even more poisoned drug supply has left hundreds of people, including those community members who have been made most vulnerable, with the following risks:
- Increased risk of using (and accidentally overdosing) alone
- Fewer safe spaces to access
- Limited ability to social distance
- Limited access to basic sanitation to wash hands, use a toilet or take a shower
- Little to no socializing or access to community
“This has made such a difference for so many people,” shared one of the participants using the area, with multiple women expressing fear of the space being taken away.
The Safe Respite space also allowed WISH to welcome back partners like Atira and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre’s Housing Outreach Workers and WAVAW’s Victim Service Workers; and invite new partners like Kilala Lelum’s mobile health van.
Programs heavily affected by COVID-19 restrictions also benefited from having an outdoor area that allowed participants to gather safely. The Learning Centre, Music Therapy, Transitions, Peer Programming, pet therapy, and other programs were able to resume safely thanks to the existence of the Safe Respite area.
- City of Vancouver