Hundreds of Victoria sex workers are now going without resources, as PEERS Victoria Resource Society quietly closed the doors to its drop-in centre and shut down its most incremental program last month.
The Elements program, which since 1998 has given many Victoria sex workers their first chance, was disbanded indefinitely on Aug. 9, and the daytime drop-in centre was closed to all walk-in clientele Aug. 16.
The resource loss is due, in part, to a complex change in funding structure and some “tough decisions” PEERS staff was forced to make with an impending deficit.
PEERS will continue its daytime and nighttime outreach services, but only 10 per cent of its current 515 clientele have been matched with service providers, leaving 90 per cent of those women with few or no resources. Three staff positions were also lost in the cuts.
“This is a really painful and tragic time for the whole community, and the only thing I can hope is that this is the contraction before the expansion, just like a heartbeat,” said PEERS executive director Marion Little. “Just as I trust my own heart, all we can do now is trust our greater community will rally around us to protect us and help us find our beat again.”
Little says the decision has been looming since 2011, due to the implementation of the new provincial integrated case management system. In order for social assistance groups to receive reimbursement funds for services provided, many more administrative steps were required, and much more personal information was demanded of clients.
While huge risk was assessed for clients that would now be required to issue a full name and social insurance number just to access services (and all service providers attached to the system would be able to access this data), the funding trouble grew from the administrative side.
“We used to offer bus tickets to clients to help access our services, but where it used to take one or two administrative moves to be reimbursed for that, now it took us 30 – for each ticket – and there are so many more complex services we offer that we were losing so much staff time to administrative roles, until we could basically no longer afford our own services,” said Little.
A spokesman from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation was unavailable for comment.