As a long-time resident of the Downtown Eastside, Stella August takes on an unofficial guardian role.
“I’m down there almost 24/7, watching out for our people,” she said.
According to August, more guardians are crucial to keep an eye out for some of the vulnerable residents that call the Downtown Eastside home.
“This is one of our safety precautions for our women - we need to put more of us out there to keep an eye and an ear open for our loved ones out here,” she told the Straight by phone.
“Twenty years have gone by and there wasn’t anybody to protect our loved ones that haven’t been found or the ones that have been murdered,” added August, who is also a member of the March memorial committee for missing and murdered women.
A program announced by the Vancouver Police today (December 6) aims to encourage more reporting of violence against women and safety concerns in the Downtown Eastside.
As part of the Sister Watch initiative, which was previously launched as the Guardian Project, women are being encouraged to call a tip line with any information about crimes against women, and regular community meetings will be held to share concerns.
Eighteen bus stop advertisements around the neighbourhood will provide information on the tip line, and cards with tip line information will be handed out by police officers working in the Downtown Eastside.
The Sister Watch program also involves a $10,000 reward for anyone with information regarding the sudden death of Ashley Machiskinic, who fell from the window of a hotel on East Hastings street in September.
August said the initiative is necessary for community safety. She noted that some people have been afraid to report the details of crimes out of fear for their own well-being.
Const. Jana McGuiness of the Vancouver Police said the initiative aims to break through that sense of fear by encouraging anonymous reporting of violence against women.
“There has been in the past some mistrust of the police and also a reluctance to come forward with information,” McGuinness told the Straight.
“We need to look at ways that reach everybody.”