Women & Women’s Organizations Respond Quickly to Sexual Assaults in Downtown Eastside Church Shelter While Shelter and City of Vancouver Ignore Reports

by Downtown Eastside women and women’s organizations


For immediate release

Women Respond to Sexual Assaults in Downtown Eastside Church Shelter While Shelter and City of Vancouver Ignore Reports

Press Conference on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11 am. 515-119 West Pender St

(Vancouver, BC)  A coalition of women and women’s organization is acting quickly to address reports of sexual assaults of women in a Downtown Eastside shelter.  In January 2011 it was identified that women were being sexually assaulted by men at First United Church co-ed shelter located at Gore and Hastings.  In 2010, Vancouver Police Department confirmed six sexual assaults had been reported at the shelter.

Frontline workers had been receiving reports directly from women as well over the past several months, many of whom have relayed that the lack of concern about their well-being in the church shelter is similar to the colonial and paternalistic attitude experienced in residential schools.

In the wake of staggering levels of violence against women in the Downtown Eastside including cases where women have been murdered, First United Church staff ignored the reports until confronted by women and women’s organizations in 2011. It has come to light that some City of Vancouver staff have been trying to have this situation addressed by City departments for more than a year and a half.

“The First United Church Shelter is too crowded, understaffed, and inappropriate for housing people. It is an unethical way to deal with homelessness in this city and BC Housing and the City of Vancouver play a direct role in permitting this situation to continue. It is negligent to have women accessing this space knowing that they are at risk of sexual violence and harassment”, the coalition wrote in a letter to BC Housing.

The coalition wrote further, “Now that the Health Contact Centre is closed, First United Church is the place of last resort to go in the night when there are no services available. It isn’t a safe environment for the users of the shelter, especially women, and should not be considered a so-called solution to the homeless crisis in this neighbourhood.”

Beatrice Starr, a member of Downtown Eastside Power of Women group, stayed at the First United Church Shelter for over 8 months. She directly witnessed the high levels of harassment and violence against women and asserts that “The First United Church Shelter must ensure that there are more women-only beds and a larger women-only section. They should have also had more female staff and ensured safety for women who use the shelter as a high priority.”

For many years, women, anti-violence and women’s organizations have been demanding a 24 hours space for women in the Downtown Eastside. Funders and City of Vancouver are responsible to ensure that safe services are equally available to women.  No longer should women be choosing between the violence on the street and the violence within publicly funded institutions.


Alice Kendall Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre 604-681-8480 Ext 223
Kate Gibson WISH Drop-In Centre 604-669-9474
Harsha Walia To arrange interviews with Power of Women Group 778 885 0040
Angela Marie MacDougall Battered Women’s Support Services 604-808-0507