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Women Respond to Sexual Assaults in Downtown Eastside Church Shelter While Shelter and City of Vancouver Ignore Reports

by DTES Power of Women Group


For immediate release

Women Respond to Sexual Assaults in Downtown Eastside Church Shelter While Shelter and City of Vancouver Ignore Reports

Press Conference on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11 am. 515-119 West Pender St

(Vancouver, BC)  A coalition of women and women’s organization is acting quickly to address reports of sexual assaults of women in a Downtown Eastside shelter.  In January 2011 it was identified that women were being sexually assaulted by men at First United Church co-ed shelter located at Gore and Hastings.  In 2010, Vancouver Police Department confirmed six sexual assaults had been reported at the shelter.

Frontline workers had been receiving reports directly from women as well over the past several months, many of whom have relayed that the lack of concern about their well-being in the church shelter is similar to the colonial and paternalistic attitude experienced in residential schools.

In the wake of staggering levels of violence against women in the Downtown Eastside including cases where women have been murdered, First United Church staff ignored the reports until confronted by women and women’s organizations in 2011. It has come to light that some City of Vancouver staff have been trying to have this situation addressed by City departments for more than a year and a half.

“The First United Church Shelter is too crowded, understaffed, and inappropriate for housing people. It is an unethical way to deal with homelessness in this city and BC Housing and the City of Vancouver play a direct role in permitting this situation to continue. It is negligent to have women accessing this space knowing that they are at risk of sexual violence and harassment”, the coalition wrote in a letter to BC Housing.

The coalition wrote further, “Now that the Health Contact Centre is closed, First United Church is the place of last resort to go in the night when there are no services available. It isn’t a safe environment for the users of the shelter, especially women, and should not be considered a so-called solution to the homeless crisis in this neighbourhood.”

Beatrice Starr, a member of Downtown Eastside Power of Women group, stayed at the First United Church Shelter for over 8 months. She directly witnessed the high levels of harassment and violence against women and asserts that “The First United Church Shelter must ensure that there are more women-only beds and a larger women-only section. They should have also had more female staff and ensured safety for women who use the shelter as a high priority.”

For many years, women, anti-violence and women’s organizations have been demanding a 24 hours space for women in the Downtown Eastside. Funders and City of Vancouver are responsible to ensure that safe services are equally available to women.  No longer should women be choosing between the violence on the street and the violence within publicly funded institutions.

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Alice Kendall Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre 604-681-8480 Ext 223
Kate Gibson WISH Drop-In Centre 604-669-9474
Harsha Walia To arrange interviews with Power of Women Group 778 885 0040
Angela Marie MacDougall Battered Women’s Support Services 604-808-0507

 

OPEN LETTER TO BC HOUSING AND MAYOR GREGOR ROBERTSON

February 24, 2011

Attention:          Shane Ramsay, BC Housing
                        Gregor Robertson, Mayor, City of Vancouver

As per our meeting with BC Housing representatives Margaret McNeil and Dale McMann on February 11th, we are reiterating our outrage at the situation at the First United Church, a government funded service, where women are being subjected to sexual violence.  We are further outraged to discover that City staff have been trying to have this situation addressed by City departments for more than a year and a half.  In addition, First United has been aware of the on-going sexual assaults taking place under their roof and have had no dedicated nor effective response to the violence perpetrated against women at their facility until they were “caught”.

The First United Church Shelter is too crowded, understaffed, and inappropriate for housing people - it is an unethical way to deal with homelessness in this city and BC Housing and the City of Vancouver play a direct role in permitting this situation to continue. It is further negligent to have women accessing this space knowing that they are at risk of sexual violence and harassment.

Women in this community are repeatedly subjected to extreme levels of violence and repeatedly governments and institutions ignore their responsibility.  We are all too aware of the consequences: serial killers allowed to “hunt” in this neighbourhood, with no response from the systems that are charged with protecting them.  We know that many other services and not-for-profit organizations in this community take no responsibility in creating safe spaces for women:  women either put up with the violence and harassment or do no access the service.  

Now that the Health Contact Centre is closed, First United Church is the place of last resort to go in the night when there are no services available.  First United Church has been looked to by BC Housing and the City of Vancouver to house all and is not scrutinized for fire and health regulations as other shelters would be.  It isn’t a safe environment for the users of the shelter, especially women or for the staff and should not be considered a solution to the homeless crisis in this neighbourhood.

Currently there is a women only emergency shelter that is open for 9 hours. It must be extended to a 24 hour shelter for women. Women working in the sex trade are the most vulnerable and need a space for safety.  The drop in centre for women in the sex trade is currently only open for 5 hours.  It must be extended to a 24 hours centre.

For many years, women, anti-violence and women’s organizations have been demanding a 24 hours space for women in the downtown eastside.  Now is the time.  No longer should women be choosing between the violence on the street and the violence within publicly funded institutions. Funders are responsible to ensure that safe services are equally available to women.

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Comments

Awareness is the first step

Certainly platitudes are no substitute to this hard core issue.

I am dismayed at First United Church's lack of responsibility by excusing the hyper masculinization of their shelter space. The ongoing violence, rape and sexualization of very vulnerable women in their space is NOT OK!!

This has been brought up plenty of times and so called senior staff use the age old religious excuse by saying "it is a church and a safe non exclusionary space for everyone". Well such great meaning, yet while vulnerable women keep on being violated.

Grrrrrr!

Thank you for posting and let us keep people & organizations accountable!

Namaste

Tami Starlight - VMC Video Femininja's & Editorial Collective 

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