“I Found My Voice Here”: A Conversation with Elaine
It’s one week until Giving Tuesday, the National Day of Giving! For this occasion, we’re sharing a conversation with Elaine, DEWC member and volunteer.
Elaine has been part of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre for more than fifteen years. She was on the steering committee before we moved into the 302 Columbia Street location, a member, and now a dedicated volunteer whose laughter (and bannock!) is instantly recognizable when she enters the centre. She shares about her experience and what the centre means to her.
What does DEWC mean to you?
DEWC was my place of refuge, it was my meal ticket, it was my clothing store, it was where my family was, it was where I could work to put food on my table; it just meant a lot of things to me. I’ve grown a lot in the last fifteen years I’ve been here. The women’s centre…it saved my life. I would be dead by now if I hadn’t found the women’s centre.
How did the women’s centre help you get where you are today?
Every woman that walks in the door reminds me of where I came from and who I was. So, I can’t be judgmental when I’m upstairs – whether I’m working in the clothing room or at the front desk, or out on the floor. Any woman that comes in, I cannot be judgmental. I was a little bit of all of them. I was in survival sex work, I was a drugoholic, I was an alcoholic, I was abused as a child, and then I started abusing myself. So the women’s centre basically kept my head afloat in this world of chaos and storms and hurricanes and tornadoes, the way I was raised since I was old enough to run. I’ve come a long way.
Are there any specific programs that you found especially needed?
The Healing Circle really helped me. The Power of Women group really helped to empower me as a woman, which we all need. We all need empowerment, otherwise, as women, we just kind of become followers instead of leaders. I used to be follower, and now I’m a leader. Art, to me, is a kind of therapy, so when they had art here I took part in that too.
What do you love most about DEWC?
The food! I like the scalloped potatoes and ham days. That’s my favourite. And the attire. My voice – I found my voice here, not only speaking but singing the Women Warrior’s song. Singing the Women Warrior’s song helped me be one. “Warrior” doesn’t mean that you’re dressing up and going into combat. A warrior means that you’re going into people’s struggles. Homelessness, the housing, the poverty. A lot of women come from abused situations and are on the run. I’m really happy that the Women’s Centre is transgender inclusive. Transgender women don’t have the same respect as us [cisgender] women.
Now that I have a home and I’m not homeless, I find that I need to be out there for the next person that needs me.
What’s your favourite thing to do at the centre?
Just come in and make the staff laugh. I love laughing. You know, life is too stressful. But people sometimes forget that laughter is the best medicine.
If you could describe DEWC in a few words, what would you say?
Endless possibilities. To the women on the street who want to shower, brush their teeth, change their attire, see advocates, find housing, do art, do knitting: this place is endless.
Thanks, Elaine, for sharing your story! Give a gift to DEWC on Giving Tuesday, and give endless possibilities.