Providing Essential Support and Opportunities in Times of Chaos

Providing Essential Support and Opportunities in Times of Chaos

As featured in Global Heroes.

While many communities are moving on from the pandemic, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic is still acutely felt. To make matters worse, this community continues to face multiple crises, including the ongoing opioid crisis, worsening homelessness, and escalating gender-based violence.

Street-based sex workers continue to fall through the cracks. That’s why the services available at the WISH Drop-In Centre Society are so critical. For more than 35 years, WISH has been working to ensure that women and gender-diverse street-based sex workers have the resources and supports needed to make free, healthy, and positive choices.

“It’s often the choice of taking an unsafe date or going home with no money and having to worry about all the things you can’t afford.” —WISH participant

At a time when many social service agencies were closing their doors, WISH not only remained open, but expanded services to meet the sharp increase in demand. WISH’s Mobile Access Project Van added a second shift, the Drop-In expanded operating hours, and WISH opened Canada’s first ever 24/7 shelter for sex workers. These changes helped participants meet their most immediate and urgent needs.

But street-based sex workers rely on WISH for much more than just the urgent. Staff have become participants’ primary help navigating through increasingly complicated matters—dealing with hundreds of requests for support every week.

Each day and night, approximately 350 women and gender-diverse folks come to WISH for support and services.

Many of those who walk through the doors have experienced targeted, gender-based, and sexualized violence due to the criminalized nature of Canada’s “prostitution” laws. They have physical and mental health issues related to violence, chronic trauma, and other effects of homelessness and poverty. As a result, they face significant discrimination and are hesitant to engage with the support services they need.

“We just want to live our lives. We just want to raise our children, we just want to be happy, healthy, productive people but how do you do that?” —WISH participant

wish drop-in centre
© Wendy D. Photography

Being able to get one-to-one, longer-term support is vital to participants’ ability to make free choices and have stability in their lives. This support is provided by WISH’s Inreach team (which includes a dedicated Housing Worker), Indigenous Health and Safety Program, Music Therapy, and Supportive Employment Program.

Did you know…

  • More than 70 per cent of those who come to WISH live with disabilities
  • 80 per cent are unhoused or precariously housed
  • 90 per cent struggle with mental health and/or substance use issues
  • All face stigma and discrimination when trying to access services
  • Street-based sex workers are seven times more likely to face a violent death

As the Downtown Eastside continues to grapple with multiple crises, your support is crucial in ensuring sex workers do not face a reduction in services. WISH’s largest fundraising campaign of the year is launching this Giving Tuesday on Nov. 29th. Can they count on your support?