Women are trading sex for a warm coat or for a place to shelter for the night against freezing temperatures.
It is not just a big-city human injustice, it’s happening here according to executive director Debbie Scarborough of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS).
“That’s the reality (women providing sex for help),” said Scarborough about what is already happening during the recent cold snap. “We’d like to be able to hand these individuals coats and they don’t have to give the only precious commodity they have.”
Below zero temperatures lately have almost completely depleted the society’s resources of weatherproof coats, boots, scarves and sadly mats, tarps and sleeping bags for those who have no home.
“We have women who are living in their cars and many more who are homeless and they need these things just to survive,” said Scarborough. “We take our mobile outreach van out on Thursdays and Saturdays and they know where to look for us to get the things they need.
“We try our best to support them, not only through safety plans (including harm reduction kits), but staying warm as well.”
She estimated support crews are working with nearly 40 people on a daily basis and double that through the use of the van which started as a pilot project two years ago.
“When they approach the van, they tell us what they need, there’s no judgement, there’s no shame,” said Scarborough. “With the homeless demographic, the numbers have definitely increased. It’s harder to get housing as well, here. What is affordable, isn’t safe. That’s a reality.”
There are also many people that the SOWINS workers help who are addicted to drugs. That’s why they are so intent on providing the kits which contain items such as syringes, pipes, and screens, as well as male and female condoms.
Unfortunately, she still runs into people who believe that by providing drug-use items, it encourages people to use.
“Fact is, if I’m using I’m going to use regardless. I’m around all this stuff and it doesn’t encourage me to use,” said Scarborough. “The only people utilizing our services are the people who are already using, so it’s making it safer.
“Every one of those people have a family, they’re someone’s son, someone’s daughter or granddaughter, mother, father. There’s someone who loves them out there, somewhere.”
She added that by gaining the trust of the people on the street, workers are better able to steer them in the direction of where to get help when they are ready.
The items needed can be gently used (socks need to be new), but should be clean.
Anyone wishing to donate can call (250) 493-4366 for more information. Donations can be dropped off at the outreach office at 102-1027 Westminster Ave. W.