No More Stolen Sisters: Safe Shelters, Safe Housing, Safe Services

** Please forward and read below on three IMPORTANT ways you can support **

Over the past two months a growing group of women residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) in Vancouver as well as a coalition of DTES and women-serving organizations have been raising the urgent issue of women’s safety in shelters in the Downtown Eastside. This has come in response to a number of reported sexual assaults in DTES shelters.

We have been dismayed by the lack of response by all levels of government about the ongoing violence committed against women in the Downtown Eastside. We have been outraged that all four of our correspondences have been ignored. We have been shocked that our delegation to BC Housing in March 2011 was met with a heavy presence of police and we were shut out from any dialogue on this issue. All this suggests to us that BC Housing as well as city and provincial officials do not consider women’s safety a priority within their funded facilities.

Sexual assaults against women in this neighbourhood are normalized as we have seen with the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered women. Women should not have to “choose” between the indignity of homelessness and being warehoused in shelters, and the high-risk of assault associated with both. We will not remain silent or complicit and are continuing a grassroots campaign based on three core demands that we believe can and should be met in a timely manner.

We are calling for:

1) A 24 hours low-barrier women-only (includes all self-identified women) drop-in space and shelter in the Downtown Eastside, ideally on Hastings Street between Main and Jackson. The establishment and operation of this service should be done through an accountable process including a transparent call for tenders and in consultation with community organizations and DTES resident women.

2) Housing for homeless women and children with at least 100 new units to be made available immediately.

3) Clear provincial standards for women’s safety in co-ed shelters to be implemented immediately in all existing and new shelters, including but not limited to:

• Women-only facilities in co-ed shelters with adequate women-only beds and services within those spaces.

• Women staff and training for all staff by women’s organizations experienced in issues of sexual and gender violence. Shelter contractors must demonstrate the ability to ensure safety and security for women shelter users and all staff must be able to demonstrate an understanding of gender inequalities that contribute to violence against women.

We are calling on allied groups, communities, and individuals to support us. Please get involved and spread the word!

For more information email project@dewc.ca or call 604 681 8480 x 234. Website:
http://womensmemorialmarch.wordpress.com/

HOW TO SUPPORT

1) PETITION: Please sign our online petition. We are hoping to gather 5000 signatures in two weeks and need your help to make this happen! Link to petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/DTESsafe/petition.html

2) ENDORSE: If you are a member of a women’s group, social justice collective, community centre, union, service organization, or campus group, we request that you please endorse our three demands by emailing hwalia8@gmail.com or calling 778-885-0040.

3) WRITE-IN: We are requesting that everyone to please send an email along the lines of the below to all of the following people in BC Housing, City Council, MLA’s and MP’s.

RE: Safe Housing and Safe Services for Women in the DTES

It has come to my attention that for the past two months a coalition has been raising the urgent issue of women’s safety in shelters in the Downtown Eastside. I have been dismayed by the lack of response by all levels of government about the ongoing violence committed against women in
the Downtown Eastside. Sexual assaults against women in this neighbourhood in particular are normalized and their safety is not considered of highest priority as we have seen with the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered women. This would never be acceptable in any other part of town. I support the call for a 24 hours drop-in space and shelter for women in the Downtown Eastside, housing for homeless women and children, and clear protocols to be established within co-ed shelters.

Sincerely,
(NAME, ADDRESS, CONTACT INFO)

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Open Letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson “Women Respond to Sexual Assaults in Downtown Eastside Church Shelter While Shelter and City of Vancouver Ignore Reports”: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/6390

Press Release “Women Respond to Comments by Reverend Ric Matthews of First United Church; Reiterate Calls for 24-hour Women’s Shelter and Safe Housing in DTES”: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/6496

Press Release “Women’s Action in Downtown Eastside for Women’s Safety” and Open Letter to BC Housing: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/6692

SELECTED MEDIA

Video of press conference: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/video/press-conference-women-respond-sexual-assault-dtes-shelter/6484

Podcast of Vancouver DTES women’s groups shut out of B.C. Housing office: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/pivot-legal-society/2011/03/vancouver-dtes-womens-groups-shut-out-bc-housing-office

Women rail against violence in shelters: http://www.theprovince.com/news/assault+protest/4488619/story.html

Safe Housing, Safe Shelters and Safe Services for Women: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/vancouver-politics-and-service-provision/6707

More emergency shelter spaces needed for women, Vancouver council hears: http://www.straight.com/article-382418/vancouver/more-emergency-shelter-spaces-needed-women-vancouver-council-hears

Women’s groups outraged over sexual assault comments: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/03/02/bc-first-united-church-sexual-assaults.html

This campaign has been endorsed by:

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, DTES Power of Women Group, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, Walk4Justice, Battered Women’s Support Services, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, PACE Society, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, Vancouver Status of Women, Oxfam Canada, No One Is Illegal Vancouver, Vancouver Action, Council of Canadians, Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society, Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund, Streams of Justice, Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, Carnegie Community Action Project, Purple Thistle Centre, W2 Community Media Arts Society, Life Skills Centre , Ending Violence Association of BC, Portland Hotel Society, Pivot Legal Society, UBC Centre for Race Autobiography Gender and Age studies, Interfaith Institute for Justice, Peace and Social Movements, Women Against Violence Against Women, Aboriginal Front Door

Feb 14 – Day of Justice: Rally for Sisters in Spirit

Monday February 14, noon-1:30pm
Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Algonquin Territory
(Facebook page)

Also events in Vancouver and Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal

Come out and show support for the survival of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) unprecedented Sisters in Spirit campaign (SIS), which, since it’s inception in 2004, has worked to raise awareness about violence against Native women and girls in Canada–namely, those who have gone missing or been murdered.

SIS not only compiled a data for over 583 cases of missing and murdered Native women in five years time, but also identified key patterns integral to understanding the systemic nature of the violence: media neglect or racial bias, police racism or negligence, victimization of Native women by the Justice system, and governmental apathy and enforcement of cycles of poverty for Native communities, to name a few. In a relatively short period of time, SIS also managed to raise the profile of the issue in the media and in the minds of the population at large, while providing indispensable support to the families of victims and creating a cross-country network.

This October 86 communities organized the 5th annual memorial Sisters in Spirit March and Vigil, including one in Nicaragua.

In spite of this progress, and the ongoing collection of new data (indeed, grassroots groups have put the number of missing and murdered women much closer to 2000), the government has held SIS in funding limbo for the past 8 months, ever since the release of Canada’s 2010 budget back in March, when $10 million was promised to “address the issue of missing and murdered Native women.” It wasn’t until November 2010 that the government finally made the announcement that confirmed the worst fears of many activists, organizers, and even opposition MPs: the money would not go to fund SIS research, but would instead fulfill the government’s new idea of safety for women, and include requirements for enhanced police power: amendments to the Criminal Code to allow police to wiretap without warrants in emergencies and obtain multiple warrants on a single application. This will not only increase the likelihood of criminalization of women, Native communities, and other vulnerable sectors of the population, but will be expected to operate without the backbone of research and data collection. Add to this the historical and ongoing relationship of distrust between many Native communities and police, who are themselves implicated in a number of documented violent altercations with Native women. Gladys Tolley, for instance, was killed by the Surete du Quebec in 2001 and no one was ever brought to justice. Her daughter Bridget Tolley has pushed for an independent investigation for years and was recently refused.

ENOUGH is ENOUGH!! We will not stand for the continued stripping down of First Nations programs essential to the physical safety and mental and emotional health of Native women and Native communities, as we have seen earlier this same year with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and First Nations University.

RALLY FOR JUSTICE on February 14th. SHOW YOUR LOVE!

~~~~

Volunteers needed!

We are looking for volunteers who would like to help out on the Hill, February 14th from noon to 1:30 pm (shorter if windchill warning in effect).

There are a number of tasks available:

– Handing out rally signs
– Handing out memorial armbands
– Being a part of our human billboard (by holding 1 of 19 letters to send a clear message to Stephen Harper)
– Helping to coordinate the human billboard on the steps of the Hill
– Taking photos/video of the event (to be posted online afterwards)

If you are interested in volunteering please email Kristen at familiesofsistersinspirit@gmail.com

In love and resistance!