As many vulnerable populations struggle amid the pandemic, advocates in Victoria say sex workers are among those most in need of support.
Peers Victoria Resources Society, which provides clothing, harm reduction and support services, education and employment training for current and former sex workers says this year has been especially challenging.
“We started at the beginning of COVID and have just seen a lot of folks really fall through the cracks,” said Katy Booth, outreach health coordinator at Peers.
While sex workers face not only risks associated with the coronavirus, many sex workers did not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), shelters now house fewer people, and services are more limited than ever.
“There’s not the same availability now, people are hungry and people are cold,” said Booth.
Peers operations manager Sophia Ciavarella says this time has been especially hard for transgender, non-binary and two-spirited sex workers (TN2S), who often experience unstable housing, harassment and violence, even as they try to access services.
“Many of the community can tell you some pretty painful experiences trying to access service that became a continuation of trauma instead of an alleviation of their needs,” said Ciavarella.
“Trans, non-binary, two-spirit people face a lot of disproportionate service needs.”
Peers is moving to fill that gap, creating a Trans Inclusivity Project, where staff will listen to members of the TN2S community to discover how to make these essential services safe and available for everyone.
“Relationships are so important to what we do and COVID has definitely made that harder to connect,” said Ciavarella.
Even during these trying times, Peers is expanding their reach beyond the sex work community.
“We work primarily with folks that were previously or currently in sex trade work, but right now are working with everyone who lives outdoor because we saw a lot of need,” said Booth.
Peers has started the Warm Coats & Meal Giftcard Drive, looking for new or gently used outerwear in all sizes, and gift cards to grocery stores and inexpensive restaurants.
“Right now it’s really difficult for folks sheltering outside, the weather is changing, it’s getting a lot more difficult as time goes on,” said Booth.
The organization looking to help everyone, as the needs of vulnerable populations grow in this pandemic.
To find out how to donate, or to learn more about resources for sex trade workers, please visit the Peers website.