WISH’s shelter celebrates 6-month anniversary

WISH’s shelter celebrates its 6-month anniversary 

It’s been six months since WISH opened the doors to Canada’s first-ever 24/7 temporary emergency shelter for street-based sex workers. Since then, we’ve seen an overwhelming demand for the space, resulting in the shelter being at capacity since opening day. Sadly, this means women are turned away from the shelter every single day.  

Due to the shelter operating at capacity every single day, an average of 12 women continue to routinely use the drop-in as their primary place to safely sleep each night. Every night, our 24/7 outdoor safe respite area is also routinely used as a defacto shelter space by a number of street-based sex workers.   

While women make up about 47% of the DTES community, this percentage is not reflected in the amount of available safe spaces, housing, shelter beds, and drop-ins. There continues to be an overwhelming demand for women-only safe spaces. 

Thanks to the shelter, most residents have reported fewer instances of violence and, most critically, the ability to turn down potentially dangerous work. Since COVID has deeply affected the amount and availability of safer, street-based sex work, residents do not have to take on dangerous work in order to secure a place to stay. It has also meant avoiding extended hours on the street with little to no viable work leading to increased vulnerability to predators and negative interactions with police.   

“I was in an abusive arrangement, I was able to leave and be in a more healthy, safe environment at WISH. Safe and clean.” -Shelter resident.  

The shelter has allowed precariously housed and unhoused women in the sex trade to have a place to temporarily call home while continuing to access all the programs, services, and wraparound supports that WISH has to offer. Most residents reported living on the street, staying in unsafe relationships, staying in unsafe living conditions, and/or needing to trade sex for a place to stay before the shelter existed. 

“I’m not in a place of desperation anymore and can up my prices. I don’t have to exchange low-cost sex work for a place to stay.” -Shelter resident. 

The shelter officially opened its doors in November 2020, 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 access to all the programs and services of WISH. 

Spaces like the shelter continue to be critical—now more than ever. The space has also highlighted, once again, the importance of co-locating programs and services to meet participants where they are at and adapting to the context that people are already in. This has been particularly crucial for our Inreach team, who are now better able to help shelter residents with medical needs, housing, referrals, legal support, income assistance, as well as emotional support.  

While this Shelter meets the increased, urgent needs exacerbated by COVID, WISH remains committed to addressing ongoing, unmet needs.  We continue to advocate for and work towards a larger, permanent, and purpose-built shelter for street-based sex workers.   

Shelter at a glance