A new temporary shelter for sex workers is expected to open in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the coming weeks.
Run by the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, the shelter at 340 Alexander St. will offer 23 beds, showers, laundry facilities, meals and other services for cisgender, trans and two-spirit women who are street-based sex workers.
It's a service that's long been needed for sex workers, who often spend uncomfortable nights sleeping in chairs at the WISH Drop-In Centre and have been asking for a shelter like this for years, said executive director Mebrat Beyene.
The COVID-19 pandemic and opiod crisis accelerated the urgent need for this kind of facility, she added.
"We know that this is going to make women safer, we know that it will provide much needed stability and safety and access to supports," Beyene said.
"It is going to increase safety, it is absolutely going to save lives."
Access to other WISH programs
It's the first 24/7 shelter exclusively for sex workers in Canada and was made possible through a partnership with the City of Vancouver and BC Housing, Beyene added.
The city provided and renovated the space for a "nominal" lease amount and BC Housing provided the funding for its operation, Beyene said.
Some of the beds will be allocated to sex workers who need short-term respite, but the majority of the beds will be for longer-term stays while permanent housing solutions are found.
A team of 20 to 25 staff will operate the shelter, and peer staff will be hired through the WISH Supportive Employment Program.
While staying at the shelter, women will also be able to access other WISH programs and supports including literacy programming, Indigenous programming and music therapy.
The shelter's back lot will have additional washrooms provided by the city, and an outdoor area in which to relax.
Funding for the shelter is in place for a year, but Beyene said having it exist as a longer-term shelter has been a long-standing goal for WISH.
"This is a really significant milestone and this is a long time coming," Beyene said.
"We're hoping that we can turn this into a longer-term service."