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Safe Harbours in Village

Nine Davie Village organizations and businesses are now designated safe harbours —sanctuaries for those who run into problems with discrimination or harassment in the area and briefly need a safe place to go or ask for help.

The project’s coordinating body, the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Serviced Agencies of BC (AMSSA), approached the LGBT Centre on Bute St to organize the Davie Village/West End area, according to Peter Toppings, education outreach coordinator at The Centre.

“We officially became the community organizer this past January,” says Toppings, indicating that phase one of the program involved recruiting various businesses and organizations in the West End to participate in the project.

The next step was holding a two-hour training session for participants covering ways to respond to incidents that require medical and other forms of emergency assistance.

Participating establishments include the Fountainhead Pub, Gordon Neighbourhood House, Little Sister’s bookstore, London Drugs, the constituency office of MLA Lorne Mayencourt, Priape, Sandman Suites, West End Coal Harbour Community Police Centre, and The Centre.

“We’re not asking organizations and businesses to become social workers or counsellors,” Toppings emphasizes. “What it is, is if you run into one of the organizations or businesses because you’ve been harassed on the street, or discriminated against, or being physically threatened, you can go to that site and they’ll respond,” he explains. “And it could be as simple as calling the police for you, providing you with a glass of water, or a seat for you to calm yourself.

“It’s really about creating a place of safety,” he continues, “and it’s up to the client to let [the business] know what they need at the moment.”

The bigger picture is about respecting diversity and encouraging neighbourhood organizations and businesses to make a commitment to serve everyone who comes through their doors with fairness, Toppings says.

“It’s working across communities and, certainly, it’s about the queer community. But it’s also about seniors, young people and people of different ethno-cultural backgrounds, it’s about people with disabilities,” he asserts.

So far, 22 communities across the province are participating in the AMSSA program, with the West End being one of three Vancouver communities that have designated safe harbour sites. The other two are Commercial Dr and South Vancouver.

The next phase is recruiting businesses on Denman and Robson Sts to broaden access to safe harbour sites in other parts of the West End.