FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCT. 26, 2021
One year after Canada’s first 24/7 shelter for sex workers opened overwhelming demand continues
Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — It’s been one year since Canada’s first 24/7 emergency shelter for street-based sex workers opened its doors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the overwhelming demand for the space continues.
The low-barrier shelter has been operating at capacity since day one. Sadly, this means participants are turned away every single day, highlighting the critical need for shelter and safe spaces in the DTES, particularly for women and gender-diverse people.
Run by the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, the low-barrier shelter provides respite and a warm, safe place to sleep to precariously housed and unhoused women and gender diverse people in Vancouver’s sex trade.
“I feel safe sleeping…grateful just to have a place to sleep,” shared a Shelter resident. “I don’t have to exchange low-cost sex work for a place to stay,” shared another.
Thanks to the shelter, more than 70% of residents surveyed reported fewer instances of violence and the ability to turn down dangerous work.
Since opening day:
- Crash beds have been used more than 1,100 times
- More than 1,000 participants have been turned away due to high demand
- More than 15 residents have been in the shelter for more than 4 months
- The average length of stay is 105 days
- Only 6 shelter residents have been placed in longer-term housing
- Staff have done more than 1,541 loads of laundry
- A total of 119 participants have used the 23 beds available over the last year
The temporary shelter opened its doors thanks to the critical support of BC Housing and the City of Vancouver. The space provides 23 beds along with hot showers, laundry, meals, and critical access to WISH’s supporting programs and services.
“Celebrating this milestone is bittersweet,” said WISH’s Executive Director Mebrat Beyene. “The need for a shelter like this has existed for years and we’re thrilled to have brought it to fruition. But, there is still so much need for additional shelter spaces and housing options for sex workers; particularly women and gender diverse people. A year from now, we hope to celebrate that a significant number of street-based sex workers have secured safe, affordable, and appropriate longer-term housing.”
Spaces like the shelter continue to be critical—now more than ever. We continue to advocate for and work towards a larger, permanent, and purpose-built shelter for street-based sex workers.
About WISH Drop-In Centre Society
For almost 40 years, WISH has been a refuge and an essential point of contact for street-based sex workers who have been made vulnerable due to poverty, homelessness, trauma, violence, stigma, and a lack of access to supports and opportunities. It is the largest organization in Canada supporting street-based sex workers and the only drop-in centre and shelter in the region supporting them 365 nights a year.
Phone: 604-669-9474 (Ext. 124)