A Downtown Eastside drop-in centre that provides a refuge for up to 120 survival sex trade workers per night will substantially extend its operating hours this Friday.
But whether the WISH drop-in centre will ever open around the clock as recommended by Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal is
The centre, which normally operates for five hours per evening in an undisclosed location, will now open for 17 hours, from 6 p.m. to 11 a.m.
The centre is able to extend its hours because of a $750,000 grant from the provincial government related to a recommendation from Oppal in his report.
"At this time, we have asked WISH to work within the $750,000 funding increase to improve services for women in the community," the provincial housing ministry said in a statement emailed to the Courier. "B.C. Housing [the government's housing branch] will meet with WISH management in six months to review the budget and determine if additional hours can be added with the funding provided."
In releasing his report in December, Oppal urged the government to immediately provide funding to existing centres that provide emergency services to women in the sex trade to enable them to open 24 hours per day.
"The need to save women's lives should be sufficient to counter arguments based on fiscal limitations," Oppal wrote.
Roberta Robertson, a member of WISH's board of directors, said additional staff will be hired and more food will be served, but more supplies are needed and utility bills will increase.
"We're taking it slow and steady," Robertson said. "We're very appreciative of the money. We wish that it didn't have to come from the circumstances for which it came."
Currently, 80 to 120 women from the survival sex trade rely on the centre, where there are shower and laundry facilities, a learning centre and computers. The women can access a nurse and obtain clean clothing donated to the centre.
The centre does not offer beds and there are no plans to put mats on the floor, as some shelters do, said Robertson, who wasn't sure whether a bump in hours will translate to more women using the
"We're quite interested to see if we'll be getting new women who come in who we don't usually see for whatever reason and we're hoping that will be the case," she added.
City council heard Tuesday that work is underway to hire two community liaison positions to be filled by individuals who have experience in the sex trade.
Mary Clare Zak, the city's director of social policy, estimated the overall cost of the positions at $150,000. The city is also working with the Vancouver Police Department to reduce the number of tickets issued to marginalized people for minor offences - another recommendation in the Oppal report.
"What tends to happen is if people have been issued a ticket, for example, they may not feel comfortable going to police to report an assault, to report abuse, to report a crime," Zak told the Courier. "That goes for vulnerable populations across the board."