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 particularly 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, as well as police, 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. Sex workers' 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 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 build trust, and created ways to make change together.
In 2020, Living in Community incorporated as a non-profit society and in 2021, transitioned to a governance board. Over time, we also deepened and clarified our values and our process for working together. We recognized a need to better centre the voices of sex workers, and understand that those who enforce harmful sex work laws and policies are incompatible with our approach.
We work with many communities and partners, across BC and beyond, to create a future where sex workers’ rights are respected, and where sex workers are free from stigma, violence, discrimination, and criminalization. We envision a world where diverse stakeholders can come together to share, learn from each other, and work through different sex work perspectives in order to achieve our common goals.
Looking back to how our project began, this video explores LIC's innovative model and demonstrates how it has made an impact on communities in Vancouver and beyond.
Illustrated story by Rosanne Lambert & Janet McLeish. Hand-drawn video produced by flippinpictures.com.