A program that supports sex workers in Hamilton finally has a brick-and-mortar location and has officially celebrated its grand opening.
Jelena Vermilion, executive director of SWAP Hamilton, said the organization’s new home on Barton Street East near Lottridge Street is meant to be a place of solace for sex workers.
“First and foremost, we want to create a space where sex workers can be part of the community and escape from the stigma and vilification that they face on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
“To be part of a community where they know that their work is valued and that they as people are not less than because of the work they do.”
The office has amenities like a kitchenette, washer and dryer, internet access, and even an archive of media that prominently features stories about sex workers — media that Vermilion said will allow those who stop by to take in content that “centres their own narrative”.
It will also be where people who do sex work can access counselling services through psychotherapist and registered social worker Arleney Jane Pitts of Hustle Heal Motivate.
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SWAP Hamilton has already been working with Pitts for over a year now, and Vermilion said that the partnership will continue at the new location with some pro-bono services, as well as drop-in counselling on a still-to-be-determined day of the week.
There will also be plans to hold events in the space going forward — things like film screenings, panel discussions, and even potentially collaborating with other local creators like Adam and Steve to host drag show evenings.
The space is paid for through roughly this time next year, thanks to a grant from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Vermilion said the intention is to remain at the Barton Street location for as long as possible, hopefully through fundraising and applying for further grants.
She said she’s grateful that SWAP has gotten to this point and has been received so well by Hamiltonians, with some even offering donations in the way of used furniture and helping out with plumbing.
“A lot of this work has been done alone in the sense that sex workers often have to meet their own needs and advocate for their own needs, but we’re really happy to highlight that Hamilton has received SWAP very well,” she said.
“We wouldn’t be as successful and we wouldn’t be able to offer the kind of support we do in the community without the community.”