Tools for Building Community

Values for a Healthy Community

Living in Community is guided by the following values:

  • embrace diversity and be respectful of everyone
  • enable participation
  • encourage learning and self-growth as a path to change
  • take a stance against exploitation and social injustice
  • enable understanding and build community
  • listen and be open to different perspectives


In working to build relationships in the community based on these values, our work is guided by the following statements and assumptions:

  • The negative impact of sex work on communities in Vancouver is unacceptable. Residents, businesses and sex workers are negatively affected by the lack of legislation, policies, funding of services and a coherent, co-ordinated strategy within government and the community to address the issue of sexual exploitation of children, youth and adult sex work in Vancouver, in Canada and, ultimately, worldwide.
  • The root causes of poverty, addiction, mental health, history of sexual abuse, lack of safe and affordable housing, criminalization of the activity of sex work, discrimination and stigmatization must be dealt with so that individuals are able to make healthy, safe and informed choices in their lives.
  • The status quo is not working. Current laws continue to contribute to violent, unsafe and unhealthy conditions for all community members. There is an urgent need for immediate action.
  • Survival sex work, defined as the inability to refuse to work in dangerous circumstances due to addiction, mental health issues, poverty, predatory violence and so on, is unacceptable. The government and society need to immediately address the extreme violence and marginalization experienced by survival sex workers.
  • Aboriginal people are over-represented in survival sex work due to the legacy of colonization, residential schools, discrimination, systemic racism and the lack of culturally relevant services.
  • Services to address the impacts of sex work should be located in the communities that are affected by sex work activity and in the communities where sex workers live.
  • Sex workers are part of the community and should be included in all discussions, because the negative effects of the current situation and the instability of the sex industry directly affect them.
  • Vancouver has a very diverse multicultural population. Immigrant and multicultural populations need culturally appropriate programs and health and safety services and resources in their own languages.
  • Prevention should be the primary goal when dealing with the negative impacts of sex work and sexual exploitation. This is especially applicable with regard to children and youth.

Building Relationships

Sex workers work in many different neighbourhoods. In some cases, people in these neighbourhoods feel hostility and aren’t aware of how to engage with sex workers respectfully. In the past, sex workers have experienced extreme acts of violence and shaming and as a result they have little or no trust in others.

Below you will find suggestions for how to initiate a dialogue between two people, one being a sex worker and the other a resident or business owner. Please keep in mind that this is a process; it requires commitment and good intentions. Relationships take time and both parties need to feel safe. Here is how to start:

People come and go in neighbourhoods, but you probably see some faces regularly. If this is true and you feel safe, start by saying, “hello.” Be prepared to meet with silence the first few times. If you are consistent and your intention is good, eventually others will feel safe enough to respond.

Naturally, after you have built up some familiarity, the next step is to make small talk. Maybe there is a community event or the weather has been extremely beautiful and you can comment on this to the other person. In some cases, a small dialogue will happen and both parties will continue on their way with smiles on their faces.
In neighbourhoods where there is active street-level sex work you may see things such as garbage, needles, condoms and an increase in traffic. Now that a relationship has been built, this is the perfect time to speak to some of these issues with sex workers. Share your concerns and explore how we can all work together to address these issues. We all want to live and work in safer communities and solutions can be found if everyone works together.

Additional tips:

  • If you see someone in distress, don’t be afraid to ask if they are OK.
  • Never offer something that you can’t give. Keep it simple like coffee, water or the use of your washroom.
  • Never expect sex worker services in exchange for the use of your phone, washroom etc.
  • Know your neighbourhood and who is working. Sex workers will have a greater sense of safety if others are watching out for their interests.
  • Remember that sex workers are the eyes in your community when no one else is around. In some cases, their presence can lower the chances of vandalism and break ins.
  • Leave your lights on. Lit alleys will be safer for sex workers too.
  • Needle and mattress pick up can be arranged by calling 311.
  • The police aren’t always the best people to call in cases when no crime has been committed. Mobile services {link to support services} are available to assist sex workers if no other options are available. Keep these numbers handy.