During the COVID-19 pandemic, Atria Women’s Resource Society (AWRS), with funding support from the Central City Foundation and the City of Vancouver, set up SisterSquare. SisterSquare is a large outdoor resource tent located two blocks from SisterSpace that provides overdose prevention and other services (e.g., housing support, food hampers) to women who use substances. Trans women, genderqueer women and non-binary people who are significantly femme-identified can use the services.
SisterSquare increases the capacity for overdose prevention in the area, as physical distancing measures were put in place at the SisterSpace OPS. It is operated by two peer support workers and an onsite manager. SisterSquare operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
SisterSquare is comprised of a heated tent, two washrooms and a shower. Many of the same services that are provided at SisterSpace are available at SisterSquare, including peer support workers trained in overdose response who are present when clients use drugs, referrals to other services, and provision of drug use equipment, social services (e.g., counselling, legal advocacy), housing support and drug testing.
SisterSquare also provides additional services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including food hampers and a safe drinking space. The need for a safe drinking space was identified when local establishments (e.g., bars) faced closures or restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. SisterSquare identified a need to fill this gap and provides a safe space for women to consume alcohol. SisterSquare also provides a safe smoking space, which can help to address the number of overdoses associated with drug inhalation.
When women enter SisterSquare they are not screened for COVID-19, but if a woman displays symptoms she would be supported to get tested and isolate from others.
The peer support workers at SisterSquare have established a code of conduct that is like the code of conduct at SisterSpace (e.g., signing in when you arrive, cleaning up when done and disposing of works). The overarching direction for SisterSquare is to avoid any significant barriers to accessing the site (e.g., a person cannot be permanently banned from accessing SisterSquare).
Janice Abbott, CEO
Atira Women’s Resource Society
101 E Cordova St
Vancouver, BC V6A 1K7