From 10:30pm until 6am seven nights a week, the Mobile Access Project Van (MAP Van) provides outreach services to women working on the streets of Vancouver.
The first of its kind in Vancouver, the MAP Van has been aiming to increase the health and safety of women working in the sex trade for the past 15 years, particularly in those areas where there are few or no services.
“MAP Van is made up of an experiential based group of six women” explains Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre Society. WISH is an organization whose mission is to improve health, safety, and well-being of women who are involved in the street-based sex trade.
“It was a multi stakeholder project created as a response recognizing that there was very little support for sex workers and at a time when there was a lot of targeted violence against street-based sex working women.”
The MAP Van staff provide the women with a brief respite from the street, coffee, juice and water as well as supplies, including condoms and clean needles. They can also refer women to emergency shelters, health care services and other supports.
“What we are trying to do is support women where they are working,” said Ms. Beyene. “Our primary concern is the health and safety of women who are engaged in sex work. We want community members to know that sex workers are part of the community and that a lot of times people will try “shame the john” initiatives. However, many of these strategies create more harm for the women and sex workers themselves.
“Many community members don’t realize the impact of some of their actions and complaints and that it behooves them to know what sex work looks like in a city like Vancouver.”
The MAP Van team is small and purposefully kept that way so the staff are able to build a rapport with the women they encounter. “Trust and relationship building are key when the individuals our staff encounter have been lied to and taken advantage of countless times,” said Ms. Beyene.
Currently, the MAP Van makes over 1,400 connections with women every month.
Written by Lishan Sharples