The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is an area well-known in Vancouver and across the country for it’s high levels of poverty and violence. Vulnerable populations including those who are unhoused, living in poverty, dealing with mental and/or physical health issues, and dealing with substance use make up the majority of the area. Despite associated stigmas, the DTES is a community known to many for its creativity, culture, activism, and tenacity in the face of incredible obstacles.
The women of DEWC are:
- Chinese seniors
- Homeless or living with housing instability
- Sex workers
- Transgender & cisgender
They are also:
- Community Elders, matriarchs and activists
Despite skyrocketing levels of violence against women, safe spaces and services that welcome women remain few and far between in the DTES. Co-ed spaces often only perpetuate and normalize mistreatment, harassment, and exploitation. For many women living with complex trauma, co-ed spaces are heavily avoided out of fear.
BIPOC women, especially Indigenous or Afro-Indigenous women, continue to face staggering levels of violence, overdoses, child apprehension, and institutional racism. These are only further compounded by the effects of colonialism, culture rupture, residential schools, intergenerational trauma, the Sixties Scoop, and discrimination.
In the midst of overwhelming odds, women in the DTES are not victims in need of saving. They are strong women with a history of forming collective resilience and lifting one another up towards empowerment. DEWC’s services and structure grew from these grassroots beginnings; a group of community members responded to the needs of the DTES community to form a nurturing and non-judgmental environment for women to take refuge, access resources, and grow together towards healing and wholeness.
Established in 1978, DEWC has a long history of participatory empowerment and has established an organizational structure that reflects these philosophies. In accepting that women are the experts in their own lives, DEWC is a membership-driven organization where all women accessing our services are given a vote and a voice to steer. All of our services and programs come out of the demand of our members.
We support a diverse population, including Indigenous women, who make up 70% of our membership, Chinese seniors, single mothers, cis and transgender women; women with disabilities, addictions, and mental or physical health conditions. What they have in common is lack of adequate income, precarious housing situations or chronic homelessness, lack of access to health supports, and experiences with high levels of violence and racism.