Victoria cuts off funds to service that protects sex-trade workers

By Rebecca tebrake, Vancouver SunJune 4, 2009 
Kate Gibson of the WISH Drop-in Centre sits in the van that provides aid to women the sex trade.

Kate Gibson of the WISH Drop-in Centre sits in the van that provides aid to women the sex trade.

Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — An advocate for Vancouver sex-trade workers says they will soon be at greater risk because the B.C. government has cut off funding for a van that cruises the streets at night, watching out for the women.

Losing the van means a greater risk of violence and less access to harm-reduction supplies, first aid, and bad-date reports in the overnight hours when sex workers are most active, said Kate Gibson, executive director of the WISH Drop-in Centre.

The van, which supplies the only overnight services to sex workers, is stocked with condoms, first-aid supplies, a needle exchange, coffee, fruit juice, water, referrals to support services, and posters showing missing women and dangerous johns.

It stops along the most popular strolls or at specific locations requested by sex workers. Each night, 40 to 50 women show up for supplies, support or companionship over a cup of coffee. The van’s last run will be on June 12.

The province, citing financial pressure, has not renewed the $250,000 needed to keep the van running for another year.

The solicitor-general’s ministry said the project’s funding request is under review.

“The provincial government, like other jurisdictions around the world, is facing challenging and unprecedented economic times, requiring some difficult decisions,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday to The Vancouver Sun.

Laurel Irons, who has staffed the van since 2004, said sex workers “are already very upset, concerned and feel just really left out in the cold, wondering why such an important service to them is being taken away.”

Irons said she has intervened at times when sex workers were stalked, pepper-sprayed and assaulted.

“I don’t know what a lot of women are going to do without having somewhere to turn in those desperate moments,” she said.

Kate Shannon, a research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said services that keep sex work above-ground are essential for ensuring women’s health.

“We need to scale up mobile services to sex workers. The closure of the mobile access-point van is a huge step backwards,” Shannon said.

The City of Vancouver is considering how it can help restore funding, Coun. Kerry Jang said.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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