To the Vancouver Police Foundation members:
This is a special thank you for your generous funding that was provided to positively impact the lives of many of the women working in the sex industry, predominately in the Downtown Eastside. Your funding has touched the lives of many marginalized and vulnerable women in this community and I would like to pass along my heartfelt thanks on behalf of the many smiles you put on their faces.
I would like to provide you with an overview of some of the great things that this funding has allowed to happen for many of these women involved in such a high risk lifestyle and often challenged with mental health issues and various forms of addictions.
A young Aboriginal woman, Francesca, had been the victim of several domestic situations continued to be trapped in this unhealthy relationship. She engaged with an Aboriginal program delivered by the WISH Drop-In Centre Society and began re-building her confidence and self esteem. A recent occasion while she was in class, her ex-boyfriend showed up to the 5 storey building and knowing she was on the 5th floor, crawled on his hands and knees along the hallway listening at each of the doors of various unmarked businesses until he heard her voice. He approached her in class to talk to her. The Police were called and arrested the ex-boyfriend for breaching his conditions.
While he was in custody, Francesca took the time to connect with family in Prince George. This would be a safe haven for Francesca, but neither she nor her family had the money to buy a bus ticket up there. We were able to purchase the $105 ticket, a new $5 blanket and made her sandwiches and snacks for the 14 hour bus ride. WISH provided her with the warmer clothing she required and I brought her directly to the bus, and waited for her to depart. Francesca called to say that she had made it home and was met by her family. Measures were taken to advise the RCMP of her situation should her ex-boyfriend attempt to locate her.
300 long distance / local phone cards were purchased and distributed directly to women at risk and others wanting to remain in contact or connect with family. They allow for anytime calling and can also be used with cell phones. I distributed many of these cards during my attendance at the WISH Drop In Centre, PACE (Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education) and the low barrier shelters and residences which shelter these women. Calling cards give me an opportunity to open a conversation up or leave a situation on a high note with the women and they certainly allow women to re-connect or keep in contact with family or supports.
One of the larger overnight shelters in the Downtown Eastside was short of mats for women to sleep on overnight. I was aware that the Union Gospel Mission Thrift Store had just received several hundred quilted mats as a donation and in an effort to ensure a more comfortable and much needed rest for many of these women we purchased 125 mats from the UGM Thrift Store. They recognized the mats were going directly to women in the community and so they only requested a $50 fee for the entire purchase. The mats were a tremendous success.
Hundreds of journals were also purchased. These are safety items which are also considered to be staples in this community. Journaling is a tremendous benefit to those who have been traumatized and allows the victim, in most cases, an outlet for them to start to deal with the tragedy which has occurred. It also allows them to share this information with counselors and other professionals when having that start up conversation is difficult. An example of a worker using her journal stems from a ‘bad date’ she had and when she got back to her room, she recorded the entire incident. It wasn’t until over 2 months down the road she reported the incident to the Police. The investigation led to an arrest and charge of sexual assault. I was asked to connect and support her through the court process and just prior to the court date, we met with the investigating officers to help prepare her for giving her testimony. When I picked her up, she brought with her a journal that she said might be of assistance as she had written everything down the evening the assault took place, and had not shown it to anyone. This new information was like having a pure version statement from her and subsequently, this was disclosed to Crown and Defense. Both Counsels met and a guilty plea was entered by the accused.
Individual spiral bound notebooks, binder paper and report covers were purchased for the Literacy Centre at the WISH Drop In in an effort to engage these women enough to challenges themselves with some of their educational programs. Instructors from Capilano University provide the curriculum for the student centered classes which are broad in their spectrum. Aboriginal cultural teachings, Canadian History, Lifeskills, and Creative Writing are a few of the classes that have been taught.
With the ID4ME program (also funded by the VPF) being so successful, many of the women are getting their paper copies of birth certificates, CareCards, SIN cards and BCID cards, but don’t have anything to keep their ID together. We purchased hundreds of the top loading baseball card holders which fit perfectly. These are widely distributed to the folks who require them for safekeeping.
Approximately 250 pairs of flip flops were purchased to help eliminate contracting any diseases and for their protection while walking around or showering in residences and shelters. Many of the women in various states of addiction seem to go about their day inside the residence, in their bare feet. Many of the women have been treated for abscesses in the past which often lead to further complications. The flip flops were dropped off to low barrier buildings and shelters with the specific number of flip flops being made available for all their residents. Adhesive foam cutouts and gemstones were made available to decorate and individualize the flip flops. This was an activity that several of the building got involved in and was well received.
Winter gloves, hats, scarves and socks were in great demand through the cold winter months. The purchase of these items allowed for many of the survival sex workers to benefit from their warmth. I distributed many of these items directly to the women at their residences and shelters and provided the MAP Van (a harm reduction van which travels the strolls of Vancouver checking on the wellbeing of sex workers on the streets – operated by WISH) with a healthy supply of gloves, hats and scarves. The VPD District 2 and BET Officers were also provided with the gloves, hats, scarves and calling cards. Tucking a couple of pairs of gloves and some phone cards into a patrol jacket was an easy way for our Officers to start up conversations with more vulnerable women. The calling cards were especially popular.
A $20.00 gift card to McDonalds was purchased so as to allow me to take some of these women out for a hot drink or a meal. Having a conversation is one thing, but to have it while they’re enjoying a hot cup of coffee or hamburger makes it a little easier to connect.
A woman residing in one of the Hotels in the Downtown Eastside, Chrystal, was telling me that when she was small, her Mom had taught her to make the “world’s greatest bannock”. She said that she can still make it, but doesn’t have the supplies she needs. When I asked her what she needed, she just said a big bag of flour and some lard. I purchased a 10kg bag of flour and 3 lbs of lard and she made bannock for the entire building that evening. She has since made this a weekly treat for the other women and has shown them how to make bannock. I just saw her last week. She came up and thanked me again saying that she has never made so much bannock in her life and everyone thought it was such a nice thing to do.
As I work on the streets with many of the sex workers and vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside, I’m aware of what little extras that can be used to begin a conversation with a vulnerable woman, to start establishing trusting relationships with the Police, how to engage some of these marginalized women in follow up conversations and how not to be judgmental. I am confident that we have spent the funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation in a mindful and considered way. The tremendous benefit of your generosity has touched the majority of this population. Many of these items allowed for more meaningful police contacts. Thank you for the opportunity to engage this group in a less traditional way of policing.
Sex Industry Liaison Officer
Vancouver Police Department
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.