Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has added extra stressors to how we have been able to navigate our daily lives. With escalating violence against women in the community, and what has been deemed the shadow pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis, resources and access to safe outdoor spaces for women have been exacerbated by such restrictions. While one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner, the COVID-19 outbreak has caused violence against women and girls to intensify.
In partnership with Central City Foundation and in collaboration and support with the DTES community, we were able to open SisterSquare at 525 Powell Street last May. SisterSquare offers women access to washroom and shower facilities, personal hygiene products, snacks, one-to-one emotional support, harm reduction supplies, access to support services and treatment, as well as a safe overnight shelter to women in the Downtown Eastside.
Since its opening a year ago, SisterSquare has had 67,673 visits at the space with staff supervising over 20,009 injections and ten doses of Naloxone were administered during this time. At least 385 unique women have accessed SisterSquare since its inception– 75% of which identify as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit.
“Personally, I think the success of the tent is that the women who come in for any reason, whether it is to use, shower, eat, hang out, or all of the above, are not alone in life.”
Some women accessing SisterSquare say that it is one of the few places they feel truly safe. As the pandemic forced women out of public places and into often dangerous circumstances, the regional rates of violence against women and intimate partner violence increased. The closure of safe gathering places remains a danger to many women’s physical and emotional wellbeing. At the spaces still open, women are often harassed or made uncomfortable by men.
Further, prolonged lockdowns have reduced women’s ability to earn income and socialize with family and friends. As women in the community spread the word about the space, SisterSquare has established itself in the DTES community as a safe place for women to go for respite, support, and information.
“These women work hard. And they take care of each other…. We asked the universe for this place and the universe gave us this.” – Yvette, SisterSquare Peer Support Worker [Excerpt from The Tyee]
“[W]omen come [to SisterSquare] knowing it is a safe space for them; whatever they are going through, we are there to help them, in whatever way we can. The women help each other as well, for the most part the bonds between them are strong. ..It makes a huge difference in the women’s lives to have a communal place like SisterSquare because most women feel empowered by social connections and relationships.” – Brittany, SisterSquare Support Worker
Read the full article about SisterSquare from The Tyee here.