Letter from the Acting Executive Director

Aug 21, 2020

(Published in the Summer 2020 Newsletter)

While the pandemic has been challenging for everyone, it is especially difficult for a community that is already in the midst of a multi-year opioid crisis and which is home to so many marginalized people. The pandemic piled on top of grinding poverty, lack of suitable housing or outright homelessness, gender-based violence, racism, compromised health and days when all feels hopeless has been a physical and mental drain for the residents of Downtown Eastside community.

Gender-based violence has increased, people have lost supports of all kinds, the drugs are the worst they have ever been and the overdoses have increased to a height never seen before. Women that access the drop-in centre have died and the shelter has managed to have women survive overdose at the rate of 4 per week for the last 2 months.

While these issues have taken their terrible and relentless toll on the DTES, there have been bright lights that have emerged from tragedies of the pandemic. People in the community have pulled together to support those in need with meals, PPE, sanitizing, food deliveries, and so much more.

There has been employment for peers who have taken great pride in their work keeping residents fed and safe and are supported by many organizations and individuals each day.

At the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC), we have been overwhelmed with the support of long-time donors, new donors, groups and individuals. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have heard from so many people who have made financial donations, who have shared grants for DEWC to apply for, who have made homemade masks, provided hand sanitizer, medical grade masks, 3D printed face shields,new clothing, meals for the Shelter, food for the Centre – the list goes on.

It has definitely been a coming together from far and wide to support the women of the Downtown Eastside for which we are infinitely grateful.

You know who you are and we can’t thank you enough. Your messages have, at times, moved us to tears and encouraged us all to keep on going when sometimes the hill is very steep to navigate. The DEWC shelter has remained open and has provided beds for 50 women throughout. Some women from the Shelter were able to go to the new spaces created after the closure of Oppenheimer Park which made room for other women in need of a safe place to be. Staff have been leaders in managing a sanitary environment within close quarters and have relied on advice from VCH, BCCDC and BC Housing, some of which changed almost daily.

The Drop-In Centre was temporarily closed for gatherings of women but remained steady in supplying up to 130 breakfasts and 250 lunches to-go daily, maintaining access to indoor washrooms. As things have eased, access to much needed resources like housing support, victim services, advocacy, programming, clothing , respite and volunteering have opened up for women in need.

We are still in the midst of COVID-19 and it’s hard to know when things will even out, but we do know that, as always, the Downtown Eastside is a strong, active community that is full of survivors who are working through the challenges together.

At the beginning of August, I am leaving my post as Acting Executive Director of DEWC and welcoming back Alice Kendall, Executive Director. Alice is returning at a time when there are many more mountains to climb, but after all her years of supporting and advocating for women in this community, she will tackle these challenges with her well-known effort and tenacity.

Thank you all for your support during my tenure at DEWC. It has been a time of change for sure, but I believe it has presented opportunities for improvement and recognition of the need for change for individuals who are most impacted by both the opioid crisis and the pandemic.

– Kate Gibson, Acting Executive Director