Mayor throws weight behind push for women-only 24-hour drop-in in the Downtown Eastside

Downtown Eastside Women's Centre executive director Alice Kendall has spent years lobbying for a 24-hour drop-in for women in the neighbourhood

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      The mayor has thrown his support behind a proposal for an expansion of services for women in the Downtown Eastside, making it highly likely the project will finally go ahead.

      “The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre provides critical safe housing and support services to a vulnerable population of women to make sure their basic needs are met: safety, security, food and shelter,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a media release. “By giving the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre a boost, we’re supporting these women’s journeys to wellness and empowerment.

      “Next week, I urge all council members to support this report and the recommended funding that will support the centre in providing essential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to a vulnerable group of women.”

      The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) is headquartered at 302 Columbia Street, near its intersection with East Cordova Street. Since 2006 it’s operated an emergency nighttime shelter at 412 East Cordova, the address in question.

      Its low-barriers approach has made the women-only shelter unique in that almost no one, no matter how difficult, is turned away. But because it’s a nighttime shelter, each morning staff are forced to ask everyone who sleeps there to leave the building and return to the street.

      For years, DEWC’s executive director, Alice Kendall, has lobbied for a 24-hour drop-in for women in the Downtown Eastside.

      In a May 2016 interview with the Straight, she recalled there was a string of sexual assaults on women in 2011 at the overnight shelter run by First United Church at East Hastings Street and Gore Avenue.

      “First United [was] an extreme example,” Kendall noted then. “But it is what happens. Women are harassed, bullied, and all of these other things within these kinds of spaces.”

      She noted that B.C. Housing said it would respond to the incidents at First United with a 24-hour drop-in space for high-needs women. “That was 2011,” Kendall said. “It’s 2016 and it still doesn’t exist.

      The statement the mayor’s office issued today (October 12) suggests the funding promised six years ago is finally on the way.

      According to an October 3 staff report, it is proposed that the city contribute a one-time grant of $250,000 for improvements to the building at 412 East Cordova. Services expanding from 15 hours a day to 24 hours a day would then be primarily funded by BC Housing, Service Canada (a section of Employment and Social Development Canada), and the VanCity Foundation.

      It’s expected that renovations would be completed by the spring of 2018.

      The building at 412 East Cordova previously operated as the Drug User Resource Centre (DURC), a community drop-in run by the Portland Hotel Society.

      In a funding shuffle initiated in early 2016, Vancouver Coastal Health eliminated funding for Portland Hotel Society programming there. The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, however, continued to use the space as a nighttime shelter.

      If city council goes along with the mayor’s latest support for expanded hours, it will extend programming to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.