100% of women living in Downtown Eastside tents report experiencing violence: survey

Click to play video: 'Survey paints bleak picture of life for women on streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside'
Survey paints bleak picture of life for women on streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside
An organization committed to ending violence against women says 100 per cent of the women it surveyed on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside say they've been subjected to violence, including sexual assault. Kristen Robinson reports – Mar 28, 2023

A non-profit organization committed to ending violence against women says a first-of-its-kind survey has painted a shocking yet realistic picture of life for women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, the Atira Women’s Resource Society’s peer staff spoke to 68 women living on Hastings or Main streets, and gathered survey results from 50 individuals over the age of 20.

All of the respondents identified as women while eight per cent identified as LGBTQIA2S+. Forty-one per cent were white, 38.1 per cent  were Indigenous, 7.9 per cent were African/Caribbean or Black, and 1.6 per cent were Asian while 11.3 per cent did not disclose their race.

More than half (53.6 per cent) of the women surveyed were living and sleeping in tents, almost four in 10 of them for more than two years.

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Click to play video: 'Horrendous attack on homeless woman in Downtown Vancouver'
Horrendous attack on homeless woman in Downtown Vancouver

All of the women surveyed indicated that they do not feel safe, and 100 per cent also said they were subjected to violence, including sexual assaults.

“As much as I hate to say it, it’s not shocking,” said Hastings encampment resident Randi Kohar.

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Kohar and her partner, Jason Rondeau, are used to watching their backs in the area.

‘I don’t think it’s safe for anybody down here,” Rondeau told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

Last summer, while Kohar was alone in their tent at a different location near Hastings street, she said she interrupted a potential sexual attack.

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“I woke up with some guy I didn’t know trying to undress me,” Kohar recalled Tuesday.

“He took off right away and that was pretty much it but if I hadn’t woken up when I did, I’m sure it would have been a lot worse.”

Vancouver police say the Hastings encampment and others like it are neither safe nor dignified, and the data speaks to what they suspect has been happening for months.

Click to play video: 'Nanaimo RCMP investigate disturbing and unprovoked attack on homeless man'
Nanaimo RCMP investigate disturbing and unprovoked attack on homeless man

“We believe it,” VPD spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said in an interview.

“We’ve always believed that there’s a significant underreporting issue in the encampment, specifically with sexual assaults, and this really does confirm that belief.”

Atira’s CEO said that while the rate of sexual violence is shocking, it’s not news on the Downtown Eastside.

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What does surprise Janice Abbott is that most of the women surveyed said they were not connected to any outreach team and had never been offered housing before.

“There’s a real disconnect between that perception of too many services, overlapping services, and too many resources, and two-thirds of the women saying that they haven’t been offered housing,” she said.

When asked if they would move if offered a shelter in the form of a temporary overnight space to sleep, 48 per cent of respondents said no and 31.8 per cent said yes while 20.2 per cent said maybe.

“I was sexually assaulted in [a shelter] and that just kind of ruined the whole experience for me,” Kohar told Global News.

“We need better shelters that provide women with safety and security,” added Abbott. -“Obviously, shelters where women have no privacy don’t work.”

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Abbott said Atira will use the survey results to determine what it can do differently in order to better respond to the women it serves.

Atira also plans to delve deeper into some of the issues exposed in a second survey, which it hopes will help all levels of government shape policy and programs for women.

Kohar meantime, said even an SRO (single-room-occupancy hotel), would be better than where she is right now.

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