For the print version of this article, go to $pread‘s website and order Issue 5.2.
After signalling complete fiscal fallout in June, Vancouver’s Mobile Access Project (MAP) van has returned for a three-year tour of duty. The WISH Drop-In Centre Society, which operates the MAP van in partnership with the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, has successfully negotiated funding with the provincial government of British Columbia and the Vancouver Agreement, an urban development initiative.
After months of organizing rallies and vigils, an extensive online petition, and significant media coverage, MAP will be back on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside thanks in no small part to the government of British Columbia. But if you ask the Executive Director of the WISH Society, Kate Gibson, politics had nothing to do with it: “We had a provincial election right before we had to pull the van off the road, but didn’t use this to contribute to the rhetoric of various political parties. This is not a political issue, it is a social issue.” Instead of taking sides in City Council, Vancouver activists approached the provincial government as a nonpartisan and community group advocating for an essential social service.
The MAP van provides services seven days a week from late night to early morning to women working in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Estimates place MAP’s numbers served at 1,400 connections each month. Vans are staffed by a driver, support worker, and peer-support worker. According to the WISH Drop-In Centre’s website, MAP provides refreshments, job supplies including condoms, clean needles, information on emergency services and shelter contacts, and information on bad dates or predators in the Vancouver area. Unfortunately, while activists rallied the troops to fight for the community service, the government failed to respond to pressure soon enough. MAP was still out of commission when Lisa Arlene Kireche, a sex worker who utilized the van and WISH’s drop-in services, was found murdered in Vancouver’s Fraser River. “Timing is everything and we were not there for Lisa,” says Kate Gibson.
Now that the British Columbia’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General—a provincial authority encompassing a range of public services from road management to law enforcement—is a major party to the funding agreement, the hope is that MAP will have the funding it needs to keep on the road for years to come. Violent tragedies like Kireche’s murder can never be fully eliminated when society looks on with a blind eye, but outreach projects like MAP can give sex workers the edge to fight back.