Back in 2003, violence against sex workers in Vancouver was unacceptably high. Sixty-seven sex workers had gone missing and/or had been murdered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A serial killer had been arrested but tensions remained high between police and sex workers. Residents and business owners were concerned about the presence of street-based sex workers in different neighbourhoods throughout the City. No one knew what to do.
A small group of neighbourhood, business and community policing organizations began sharing their concerns. Sex workers and sex work organizations were brought into the conversations. And police, and government and other organizations. There was no plan, but there was a commitment to work together to see if they could make a difference.
Out of this experiment, the Living in Community model was born.
Initially, it took a lot of time to build trust between sex workers, police and government. Their calls for help had been ignored for decades by the systems that were supposed to protect them and the impacts were catastrophic. Finding a way to sit at the same table, really listen and agree on how to make changes has paved a new way to deal with a complex social issue.
Over the years, we have talked to thousands of people in and around Vancouver, all over the province of BC and across Canada. We have heard their concerns, opened up spaces to talk, and created ways to make change together. Our model continues to develop and adapt to the context, and we continue to learn from the communities that we work with. The road has not always been easy, but the power of working collaboratively has been profound and impactful.