Vancouver – A long-time need for women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) has become a reality with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre’s (DEWC) emergency night shelter transitioning to 24-hour operation. Women of the community have been calling for a 24-hour shelter for years, in recognition that the need for safe space is constant. The official opening of the newly renovated facility was celebrated on International Women’s Day.
Women of the Downtown Eastside community have worked for decades to see this goal become a reality, first pushing for an overnight shelter that opened in 2006, and then advocating for extended hours.
Carol Martin, Victim Services Worker at DEWC, recalled how the need was dire: “There was huge stigma surrounding the Downtown Eastside, even though women from here face enormous violence. There was no room anywhere for them.” A series of sexual assaults in co-ed shelters further highlighted the need for a women’s shelter and galvanized the community into action. “Two women we knew had died of hypothermia on the streets,” Bernie Williams recalled. Williams initiated a sit-in of the DEWC drop-in centre with the support of the Elders Council and DEWC staff, organizing food for the women overnight. Elder Rita Blind reiterated how community response was at the heart of the shelter’s inception: “The Elders’ Council had formed at DEWC not too long before then. We took over the drop-in centre, with staff and women of the community supporting the sit-in.” Following an extended occupation, PHS Community Services Society offered space to operate the shelter overnight and BC Housing provided operating funds. Williams said, “Women are still suffering on the street without homes. I’m glad they have a safe space now – one that is theirs.”
The B.C. government, through BC Housing, continues to fund shelter operations and has partnered with DEWC to renovate the space. The Province provided close to $1.5 million for renovations of the shelter.
The project was also funded in part by the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, the Government of Canada's Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and Vancity.
The new space at 412 E Cordova St. will provide beds, instead of the folding cots that are currently used; a commercial kitchen; improved washrooms and showers, and an open layout that maximizes women’s comfort, privacy and safety.
“This space will ensure women have access to basic needs such as food and shelter, as well as offering a place of safety and respite,” said DEWC Executive Director Alice Kendall. “Women in the DTES community, particularly Indigenous women, lack access to safe and relevant services – by operating 24 hours, women can seek safety and support when needed. It is necessary to highlight, though, that demand for services and safe spaces for women continues to increase – women continue to be underrepresented in co-ed spaces and therefore lack necessary resources.”
The DEWC’s drop-in shelter provides a safe space for cis- and transgender women who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or leaving violence. The low-barrier facility accommodates all women, including those with severe mental health and addiction issues.
“We are excited to open the newly renovated space,” said Shelter Manager Vanessa McKittrick. “No longer will we be closing in the morning, asking women to leave in the rain, snow, or heat with nowhere to go. We are excited to offer a safe and functional space that has been designed as a shelter with the added bonus of having in-house support for the women we serve to access advocacy and housing outreach services.”
Each night the shelter provides refuge to up to 150 women, providing a safe place for vulnerable women in the DTES with basic necessities, and will be adding a range of programming modelled on services at DEWC’s drop-in centre at 302 Columbia St.
Melanie Mark, MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant -
“The women of the Downtown Eastside including staff and volunteers at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre are the unsung heroes who deserve the deepest recognition for their advocacy. Their perseverance to ensure there is 24/7 support for the most marginalized is a testament to their unwavering commitment to social justice and human rights. Our government is committed to making choices that put people first. Today brings hope for the daughters, moms, aunties, and sisters of our community who will now have a reliable, safe and welcoming place to rebuild their lives.”
Mayor Kennedy Stewart City of Vancouver -
“The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre has been doing invaluable work protecting and advocating for women in Vancouver by providing much-needed support and shelter. I’m thrilled to see that the overnight shelter will now have the capacity to operate 24/7. Having a safe, warm space to come inside, and a connection to support services, can be life-changing. We will continue to do all we can, and work alongside other levels of government, to support projects and programs that help those who need it most.”
Director Mike Hurley, Metro Vancouver Housing Committee Chair –
“Metro Vancouver Housing is pleased to partner in making the 24-hour Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre a reality. Our support in the form of more than $500,000 of rental subsidy contribution, along with funding support from Service Canada’s Homeless Partnering Strategy and others, will better enable DEWC to focus resources on providing wide-ranging services, safe spaces and a sense of community around the clock.”
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development –
"Our Government believes that all Canadians deserve safe, affordable, accessible housing, and we recognize that when one person is forced to live on the streets, all of us are diminished. Studies demonstrate that women are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. On International Women’s Day, it’s important that we take the time to recognize that by working together and supporting projects like the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre’s, we can reduce and prevent, and eventually end homelessness.”
Joyce Murray, Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board –
“By taking action today, we are empowering women so that they can make a positive change both in their lives and the community. One woman on the street is one to many.”
Alice Kendall, Executive Director
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
604-681-8480 x 223