Empowered to Speak Out and Give Back: An Interview with Priscillia Tait
Priscillia Tait is a familiar face around the Downtown Eastside, especially if you’ve seen any community theatre productions or been to the Heart of the City festival. She is also on the Board of Directors at DEWC, a proud Wet’suwet’en & Gitsxan mother, and an avid participant in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge, an annual fundraising run for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
The 5K run happens this year on June 24, in Stanley Park, and runners crowdsource donations and spread awareness leading up to the day. “First year I was kind of shy asking,” she says, “the second year a bit more confident, and now I’m comfortable asking people for support!”
I’ve been where some of the women are now: homeless and facing discrimination, facing high rent. Being on the Board, I want to represent the women.
What do you like about participating in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge?
You get to see the other runners who are running for the Women’s Centre! You get to see other organizations and get to know people and socialize. And, finishing the run or walk makes me feel like I accomplished something.
How did you find the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre?
The first time I came to DEWC was in 1997 with my son, when we were homeless. We were staying at the Powell Street shelter and an intake worker was telling me about agencies in the neighbourhood. She told me about the Women’s Centre [then located] at 44 W Cordova. It was a small space but they served lunch and I could bring my son, who was a year and a half old.
I eventually got into social housing and continued my education, but in 2002 my grandmother passed away and I had a hard time focusing. My marks were going down because of depression. I looked for work but couldn’t find it, so I ended up going on assistance. A lot of jobs were asking for more skills than I had at the time. To keep myself occupied, I started going to the Women’s Centre. In 2006, I started going to the Power of Women group. I thought, this is really interesting!
The Power of Women group empowered me to speak out and helped me find my voice.
It was around then that I started doing community theatre. One year, the group told me, you should try running for the Board of Directors! So I did, and I’ve been on the Board since 2011.
What brings you back to the Scotiabank Charity Challenge for 3 years running?
I think about how the Centre provides the most basic and essential needs and a safe space for women, including trans women.
When I run, I think about the women who really need a shower. I think about the women who need these basic things. It’s my way of giving back, because I’ve used the Centre’s services before.
What does the Centre mean to you?
Refuge, a safe haven. A lot of other service providers around here are predominantly used by men. The Centre provides help with housing and mental health – services provided to women that’s much easier for them to access. The clothing room! Special nights like Beauty Night. The fashion show event (Herstory in Focus). The Elders group and other evening groups. Power of Women, still going strong. The Healing Circle. The Women’s Centre is also involved in facilitating the Women’s Memorial March, and it was through DEWC that I got involved with the Women’s Memorial March committee. I had cousins that ended up here in this neighbourhood and passed on.
What are your hopes and dreams for women in the community, and for DEWC?
Housing for women. Housing with a rooftop garden, industrial washer and dryer, shelter on one side and lunch room, sewing room, art room, nap room, and music room. Once, I saw a woman who was really out of it, but when she got on the piano, she stopped shaking. If we could provide a music room with keyboards and headphones, maybe women who utilize the space might be in a better state of mind. It could give them the motivation to get clean or pursue other things or seek assistance. I can totally see the women doing rooftop gardening, they can frolic all they want! That’s my dream for the new Women’s Centre.
How would you encourage others to run for DEWC?
It gives back to the community. It’s a way of giving back, and if you can’t volunteer because you have to work or you can’t donate because you don’t have enough money, you can still run and give back! It also helps to educate others on what the Centre provides to women, and why it’s so important.