Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre increases safe spaces for women

The centre aims to open two separate locations and expand its first to follow COVID-19 restrictions

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer 

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited women’s access to shelter and increased their potential for abuse. Further, physical distancing to reduce COVID-19 transmission has led to isolation and restricted support for victims of abuse. As a result, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre board member Andrea Glickman said the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in gender-based violence and overdoses. To mitigate these effects, the DEWC has plans to increase services and accommodate more women. 

Currently, their drop-in centre operates from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. on most days. The DEWC also has a 24-hour emergency shelter. All women (cis and trans) and their children are welcome to use these resources.

According to the DEWC, “75% of women in the downtown eastside do not feel safe in the streets and in public.” The centre aims to protect these women by providing spaces where they can seek refuge from violence and harsh conditions. They also provide essential services such as food, shelter, and hygiene products to women who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or at risk of violence. 

The drop-in centre’s former administrative office was recently renovated to hold 15 women at a time. The DEWC also opened another shelter to act as a living area for women with amenities including couches, camping beds, a kitchenette, internet, and toiletries.  

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the centre has reduced the number of people who can be housed in the shelter from 55 to 30. 

In an interview with The Peak, Glickman said the centre plans to open a third drop-in location near their other centres in the downtown eastside.

“We haven’t identified a location yet but we are hoping to have a new and larger space that would be more permanent,” Glickman said. 

Centres are organized based on specific necessities such as sleeping areas or food resources. She said having several locations throughout the downtown eastside, instead of one large location, aligns best with social distancing protocols. Once it is safe to do so, Glickman hopes the new locations will ultimately be able to accommodate women at full capacity. 

“A lot of [clinics] are not as open now, or capacity numbers have to go down in order to follow COVID-19 protocols and deal with transmission issues.” With health services shifting online, “it means people are effectively cut off from accessing things like telehealth [and] video health because they don’t necessarily have access to WiFi or even phones.”

Glickman added that washrooms have become less accessible as most stores and cafés have closed their public washrooms to reduce occupancy in public settings. 

“No money is required for any services,” she said. The centre does not require women to be sober, of a certain religion, or to fill out paperwork to access its resources.

“The goal of these items is to have [easily accessible] sites to help DEWC provide more women with essential services during a time of required physical distancing,” Glickman said. 

The centre accepts financial donations as well as general donations including hygienic products, reusable masks, and clothing. For more information about the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and how to donate, visit their website.