The Downtown Eastside (DTES) as a neighbourhood is well-known within Vancouver and even across Canada for its disproportionate levels of poverty and extreme marginalization. Home to many vulnerable populations including those who are homeless, mentally ill, and/or with addictions, it is also a place known for its creativity, community activism, and tenacity in the face of tremendous stigma.
Despite the constant and epidemic violence facing women (perhaps most widely known during the 90s when many of the Missing and Murdered Women disappeared from the DTES), safe spaces and services welcoming to women remain few and far between. Co-ed spaces only perpetuate and normalize mistreatment, harassment and exploitation. Indigenous women, who comprise 70% of the women accessing DEWC, continue to face staggering levels of violence, overdoses, and child apprehension, compounded by the colonial legacy of familial and cultural rupture, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and systemic racism.
Despite of – and in the midst of – overwhelming odds, women in the Downtown Eastside are not victims in need of saving, but strong women who have a history of forming collective resilience, lifting one another up towards empowerment. The services and structure of the women’s centre grew from grassroots beginnings, responding to the needs of women so as to form a nurturing and non-judgmental environment in which women could take refuge, access resources, and grow together towards healing and wholeness.
Women-only spaces are crucial for women seeking refuge from pervasive violence, frequent abuse, and harsh conditions, especially as 75% of women in the DTES do not feel safe in streets and in public. Safety also means, in the words of members, “a smile and a shoulder to cry on.”
Our drop-in centre and emergency night shelter are low-barrier, offering essential needs to women without prerequisites. These vital necessities, foremost on a spectrum of services that includes housing, advocacy, and other support, help women bridge the gap from survival to stability and self-sufficiency.
When women gain access to a place of trust and belonging, they build skills, ownership, and relationships foundational to long-term positive change. Women of the centre are not only members but often volunteers and Board members to whom the organization remains directly accountable.
The women of DEWC are:
They are also:
As our drop-in centre is not funded by an existing contract, your contributions are essential to sustain our mandate of safe space, basic needs, and long-term improvement for women in the Downtown Eastside. Your donations go directly towards the most vital of needs: hot, nutritious meals, a place of shelter, and access to a place where sisterhood builds community, which builds capacity, empowerment, and positive change.
What our members had to say about why they love the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre:
“I love being here. The atmosphere cheers you up… you feel like somebody.” -A
“I’ve learnt so much here. The beautiful people made me believe in goodness again.”
“I have so much appreciation for the ladies who make the place so warm and inviting.” -N
“The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre is a foundation of life skills, friends and Elders. It is my sisters, it’s my treaty. It’s a place for water, food, clothing, guidance and shelter. It saved my life.”
-Larissa (pictured at right, dancing in handmade regalia for our fashion show fundraiser last November)