Temporary shelter to open for female sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

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      A much-needed emergency shelter for sex workers—one of the first of its kind in Canada—will soon launch in the Downtown Eastside.

      In about four to six weeks, WISH Drop-In Centre Society will be opening and operating this shelter, located at 340 Alexander Street, that will be devoted to female sex workers (including those who are cisgender, trans, and two-spirit).

      This new shelter will be open 24 hours seven days a week, and will offer 23 beds as well as hot showers, laundry facilities, and hot meals.

      While some beds will be provided for short-term use, most of the beds will be allocated for long-term stays during searches for permanent housing solutions. Sex workers at the shelter will be able to continue using WISH’s programs, services, and wraparound supports, including literacy programming; supportive employment; transitioning, exiting, or retiring supports; Indigenous programming; and music therapy.

      WISH’s backlot also houses a five-toilet washroom trailer and an outdoor safe respite area. (The washroom trailer is one of three trailers funded by the City to provide sanitation and support for those in the Downtown Eastside and on Kingsway.) The City of Vancouver is providing space to WISH for a nominal lease, and WISH will employ over 35 peers to maintain the space.

      WISH executive director Mebrat Beyene stated in a news release that this is the first shelter of its kind in this nation for street-based sex workers.

      “A shelter exclusively for sex workers has been a need for quite some time, but COVID has now deeply exacerbated the pre-existing crises of poverty, homelessness, and a poisoned drug supply,” Beyene explained. “A temporary, emergency shelter like this is absolutely critical—now more than ever.”

      WISH, which has operated for almost 40 years, runs a drop-in centre at 330 Alexander Street, open for 18 hours each day, where female sex workers can receive hot meal, use showers, collect clothing and personal care items, meet with a nurse practitioner, receive harm-reduction supplies, share safety warnings, and connect with others. More information is available at the WISH website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.