In the coming weeks, a new temporary shelter specifically for sex workers is due to open in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The shelter at 340 Alexander St. will provide 23 beds, showers, meals, laundry facilities, and other services for vulnerable sex workers. Managed by the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, the shelter is open for cisgender, trans, and two-spirit women who work on the streets as sex workers.
This type of facility has been a long time coming for sex workers. Often, they’ve spent uncomfortable nights sleeping in chairs at the WISH Drop-In Centre. Due to the spread of COVID-19 this year, their need for protected shelter was more urgent than ever.
Having somewhere safe and secure to sleep will help them feel more stable. They can also access support services to help them improve and move forward with their lives. Not only will the new 24/7 shelter for sex workers keep women safe, but it’s bound to save lives, too.
Extra Support Services
The new shelter run by WISH is the first 24/7 facility run exclusively for sex workers in Canada. The service was developed via a partnership with the City of Vancouver and BC Housing. Vancouver city provided and renovated the shelter for a considerably small lease amount. BC Housing provided the funding necessary.
While some beds will be given to sex workers who require a short-term stay, most will be allocated for longer-term respites. The end goal is to find permanent housing for the shelter’s residents.
A team of 20 to 25 staff members will run the facility. Additional staff will be employed through the WISH Supportive Employment Program.
Residents get more than just a safe place to stay, though. While staying at the shelter, residents are granted access to other WISH and support programs. This includes literacy programming, music therapy and indigenous programming. The latter helps Indigenous people use their voices to create meaningful change in the community.
Likewise, the shelter’s back section will have extra washrooms provided by the city. There will also be an outdoor space for residents to relax in.
While funding for the shelter is currently in place for a year, WISH aims for the facility to remain a long-term shelter for homeless sex workers.
The Link Between Homelessness and the Sex Industry
There is a strong link between homelessness and the sex industry. WISH aims to help sex workers sell their services safely and without criminalization. However, life can be challenging and scary for many sex workers who haven’t got the right services to turn to.
Many people experiencing homelessness move into sex work as a means of staying alive or to pay for the necessities of life. This type of work is sadly known as “survival sex”. It often involves exchanging sexual services for money, food, clothing, shelter, and more.
Survival sex is particularly common among young homeless women. However, it affects men, women, and transgender people of all ages.
Shelters for Sex Workers Are Essential
Sex services can be practiced safely. By offering safe and secure services to those vulnerable to homelessness, WISH is fulfilling an essential need.
Often, vulnerable homeless people, especially those in the sex industry, feel alone without support. By offering services such as those that WISH offers, rough sleepers in the sex trade have a better opportunity for moving into permanent and safe and secure housing, helping to improve their lives in the long term.
The WISH provision marks a significant step in the acceptance of selling sex in east Vancouver. It helps protect the individuals who are selling sex as well as the local community who must experience the impact of street sex.