Challenges faced by women working in the inner city sex trade.
Subject: Child sexual abuse (Research)
Child sexual abuse (Psychological aspects)
Women (Social aspects)
Sex oriented businesses (Research)
Authors: Brown, Jason
Higgitt, Nancy
Miller, Christine
Wingert, Susan
Williams, Mary
Morrissette, Larry
Pub Date: 06/22/2006
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2006 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research; 290 Public affairs
Product: Product Code: 7750000 Vice Suppliers SIC Code: 7999 Amusement and recreation, not elsewhere classified
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Canada Geographic Code: 1CANA Canada
Accession Number: 155783067
Full Text: Abstract

Women working in the sex trade in Winnipeg's inner city often share histories of abuse, violence, residential instability, racism, and discrimination. These experiences, combined with a lack of formal educational or job experience, contribute to economic insecurity. Most became involved in the sex trade as a means of survival. Once involved, they face daily challenges to meeting basic physical needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, as well as social needs, such as safety and connection to others. Those who work toward leaving the street face additional barriers in their own personal lives, their families, and in the greater community. We interviewed women in the inner city who were actively involved in the sex trade as well as women who had left the sex trade, to understand their past experiences, current realities, and how they saw their futures. Together, multiple challenges exist for sex trade workers in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods that serve as barriers to exiting the sex trade, and contribute to their challenges in inner city communities, such as poor housing and social exclusion.

Keywords: Inner city neighbourhoods, women working in the sex trade

Resume

Les femmes des quartiers centraux de Winnipeg qui pratiquent le commerce du sexe ont en commun un passe et une realite actuelle marquee par l'abus, la violence, l'instabilite residentielle, le racisme et la discrimination. Ces experiences, combinees avec un manque d'education ou d'experience de travail, contribuent a leur insecurite economique. Pour ces femmes le commerce du sexe est une question de survie. Une fois impliques, elles font quotidiennement face aux defis de satisfaire les besoins physiques de base, comme l'alimentation, vetement et logis, ainsi que des besoins sociaux comme la securite et etablir des rapports avec autrui. Les femmes desirant abandonner le commerce du sexe ont des defis additionnels en ce qui concerne leurs vies personnelles, leurs familles et la communaute. Nous avons interviewe des femmes qui sont activement impliquees dans le commerce du sexe au sein des quartiers centraux, ainsi que, des femmes qui ont abandonne le commerce du sexe. Uobjectif etait d'examiner la realite actuelle, leurs experiences passees, et comment elles entrevoient leurs avenirs. Ainsi, un ensemble de defis existe pour les femmes qui pratiquent le commerce du sexe dans les quartiers desavantages. Ces derniers sont une barriere a l'abandon de ce type de pratique, la pauvrete residentielle et l'exclusion sociale.

Mots cles : quartier centraux, femme et le commerce du sexe

Like other Canadian prairie cities, Winnipeg's inner city is comprised of several centrally-located neighbourhoods. While each has its own needs and strengths, together, these core area neighbourhoods share challenges associated with high poverty rates and a lack of local, affordable housing. With the support of the Winnipeg Inner-City Research Alliance, academics at the University of Manitoba initiated a research partnership with the North End Housing Project to study the contributors and barriers to a healthy community from the perspective of local people. The research team grew to include students, agency staff and several residents. We met many times and talked at great length about healthy communities. As these discussions evolved, it became clear that there were some groups who faced particular challenges to being active and feeling included in their community. Based on the expertise of our team, the research focused on the experiences of men who had done jail time and women working in the sex trade. This paper reports the results of our interviews with women working in the sex trade.

Winnipeg's Inner City

Winnipeg's inner city includes forty core area neighbourhoods that together make up approximately 6% of the total city land area (Statistics Canada 2001). During the most recent Census period (1996-2001), the inner city population declined (-3.9%), while the population of Winnipeg increased (0.2%). The population density of the inner city is well over twice the non-inner city population density (Statistics Canada 2001). While there are no striking differences in age distributions or family sizes between the inner city and the non-inner city, there are substantial differences in education, labour force participation, income levels, and housing.

Educational attainment among inner city residents is lower and fewer school-aged youth are attending school, on average, than among non-inner city residents. Approximately 12% of inner city residents, aged 20 or older, have less than a grade 9 education, compared to 6% of non-inner city residents (Statistics Canada 2001). A smaller proportion of inner city residents, aged 15-24, are attending school either full or part-time (approximately 40% of inner-city youth, compared to approximately 50% of non inner-city youth) (Statistics Canada 2001).

Labour force data show that among those aged 15 and older, unemployment is higher in the inner city than the non-inner city, and that within the inner city there are gender differences in labour force participation. Unemployment in the inner city (9%) is almost double what it is for non-inner city residents (5%) (Statistics Canada 2001). Close to half of women (52%) in the inner city were employed in the week prior to the last census, while almost two-thirds of men were (63%) during the same period (Statistics Canada 2001).

Income source and levels are different for residents of Winnipeg's inner city and non-inner city. A greater proportion of resident income in the inner city comes by way of government transfers (19%) than in the non-inner city (11%) (Statistics Canada 2001). The family poverty frequency is three times that of the non-inner city (33% versus 12%) The level of income for 2000 is substantially lower among male inner city residents (approximately $13,000 less than the non-inner city average) and among female inner city residents (approximately $18,000 less than the non inner city average).

The housing available for inner city residents is older and more often in need of repair than in the non-inner city. Approximately two-thirds of housing in the inner city was built before the 1960s, while only one-third of the housing in the rest of Winnipeg is the same age (Statistics Canada 2001). Close to half of the inner city housing stock is in need of repair. The average dwelling value is about 40,000 dollars less in the inner city ($105,882 versus $64,401) than in the rest of the city (Statistics Canada 2001). Most inner city residents rent their housing (approximately 2/3 are renters), and the average rent is $490 per month, which is less than the average rent in other parts of the city ($574) (Statistics Canada 2001).

Challenges Faced by Women in the Inner City Sex Trade

Women in the inner city are more likely to have had an interrupted formal education, only modest experience in the paid workforce, low income and experience with renting poor quality housing, than women in other areas of the city (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 2005). The range of opportunities for improving their incomes in the local inner-city community, for many, is quite limited (Miller & Neaigus 2002). Participation in the sex trade is one of the few options available for making ends meet. Indeed, a study of street prostitution in Edmonton's inner city found that the women were involved for economic survival (Edmonton Social Planning Council 1993). The crunch in social services funding, combined with a high rate of unemployment had left many with few resources. Many who were involved in the sex trade, reported that they had no other alternatives to support themselves and their families (Edmonton Social Planning Council 1993).

Although the sex trade is far more diverse than street prostitution, other venues where it takes place such as escort agencies, massage parlours, bars, and night clubs may assist in the creation of at least some physical distance between work and home when these places are not in the women's local neighbourhood (Benoit & Millar 2001; Rabinovitch & Lewis 2001). However, when local residents are involved in the sex trade on the street in their home community, the physical proximity to home, family and friends, can create particular challenges associated with how a woman sees herself and how others see her in the neighbourhood (Dunlap, Golub, & Johnson 2003).

The body of research literature on the sex trade is extensive. During the last 20 years the flow of books and research reports on this topic has increased (Mansson & Hedin 1999). There are multiple references on the childhood antecedents and correlates of later involvement. There are multiple references to the Badgley Report, a national "juvenile prostitution" survey of 229 youth, that reported over 80% had turned their first trick before they were 18, with some doing so as young as 8 years old (Rabinovitch & Lewis 2001). Studies have shown that women working in the sex trade face numerous challenges on a daily basis, including poverty, violence, health, addiction, law enforcement, and community exclusion (Baker, Case, Policicchio 2003).

Studies were consistent in the conclusion that "economic motivation in a context of limited possibilities" (Vanwesenbeeck, 2001, p. 263) pushes women onto the streets (Dalla 2004; Hardman 1997). Many collect social assistance, which is too low to meet basic needs for themselves and their families. Being on assistance limits employability; getting a job, even a part-time or casual job, means losing benefits. Working "under the table" leaves one vulnerable to exploitation (Weinberg, Shaver, & Williams 1999). For women who are parenting, lack of income means lack of basic necessities such as a telephone, adequate housing, clothing, food, and transportation (Kempadoo 1997), which can be interpreted by authorities as child neglect. Given the fear or direct threat of apprehension of their children, mothers on assistance face a difficult choice. If they don't work on the street, their children go hungry. If they do, they risk the possibility of legal consequences for sex trade work or being charged with social assistance fraud.

It is well documented that the street is a dangerous place for women involved in the sex trade (Benoit & Millar 2001; Brewis & Linstead 2000). The rates of physical victimization and injury are very high (Lowman, 1997). They go to work, knowing their lives are at risk (Rabinovitch & Lewis 2001). Many do not report violent incidents. Women who have reported violence were not believed, or saw their complaint discounted; others have been prosecuted for prostitution-related offences (Hubbard & Sanders, 2003). Reluctance to report to police or to make complaints about police, serves to increase their risk of experiencing violence (Downe 1998; Kohn & Selwood 2004).

Women who work in the sex trade report that their health is not what they would like it to be (Benoit & Millar 2001). The broad range of physical and mental health concerns they report are exacerbated by inadequate nutrition, poor housing, and fears for personal safety (Social Planning Council of Winnipeg 2002). Multiple challenges, such as discrimination and moral judgments, await those who attempt to access mainstream health agencies. Needed services are often outside of inner city communities, so many go without health care attention when needed (Williams 1991). High rates of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder are reported among women working in the sex trade (Campbell 2004). Substance use is a frequent, but not universal experience among women in the street sex trade. Higher use of substances is associated with greater frequency of working as well as involvement in high-risk activities (e.g. unprotected sex) (Dalla 2004). Substance use also has a positive numbing effect at work (Brewis & Linstead 2000).

The public presence of women in the sex trade puts them in conflict with local groups and makes them easy targets for law enforcement operations (Brock 1998). Sting operations, for example, may be used to control the street-level sex trade in an attempt to reduce its visibility and relocate the women involved. However, this also serves to drive the trade further underground and forces women to work alone rather than in groups (Rabinovitch & Lewis 2001). Working alone places women at a greater risk of being a victim of violence (Sanders 2004).

Involvement in the sex trade can create a life in the margins of society because of the illicit nature and stigma associated with commercial sex (Kempadoo 1997). The constant demands of working in the sex trade make it difficult for the women involved to tell others what they do for a living; the result is a 'closed circuit', leaving women with a sense of loneliness and frustration (Valera, Sawyer, & Schiraldi 2001). The inability to share their work history also puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to "live a lie" which manifests itself in a wide range of daily activities, for example, when filling out an application to rent an apartment or house (Rabinovitch & Lewis 2001).

We could find very little information from the perspectives of women who were involved in the sex trade on the issues they faced living in inner-city neighbourhoods. Many research projects (e.g. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 2005) have documented multiple social challenges such as housing, poverty, health, and crime, but none were based on the voices of women working in the sex trade, focusing on their perceptions of community life.

Research Partnership

This research partnership developed out of a discussion between university professors and the North End Housing Agency director about the possibility of a downtown classroom space. As professors in a university campus located far from the downtown core, but interested in inner city community development initiatives, we saw great value in having students learn in the community where the initiatives were taking place. The professors wanted students to learn first-hand about the inner city by physically being in the inner city. The director saw the possibility of having students do some small-scale applied research projects that the agency wanted done, but did not have the staff resources to do. The arrangement was for temporary classroom space in the North End Housing Project offices, where students would take a new course on the inner city. The course was titled: "Understanding the Inner City: A Kaleidoscope of Perspectives," and included local agency representatives and neighbourhood residents as guest speakers.

Based on positive feedback from students and staff, regular courses were offered on site at North End Housing Project thereafter. Over the next two years, five undergraduate and one graduate course were taught on site. The students in these courses partnered with local agency staff members and residents on several projects.

Method

The partner agency was interested in social aspects of housing, and the academic's interests lay in community development. The decision was made to focus our research on healthy communities, from the perspectives of those who are not normally asked or thought of as contributors to a healthy community. An advisory group was formed of academics, the agency director, a senior agency member, students, and junior staff members who were ex-offenders working for the agency in a training program where they did local housing rehabilitation and gained construction experience. We held many meetings, and discussed the groups who we thought might be approached for their ideas about healthy communities. It was decided that men and women should be involved, separately. It was also decided that men who had justice system involvement faced particular challenges, and that women who were involved in the sex trade should be approached to participate in the research.

The advisory group did not have the needed experience to make connections with the women, so they were contacted through our existing connections with other local agencies. Advisory group members felt that it was important that, for the interviews to be done in a respectful way and yield reliable information, women members make contact with potential participants, and build a relationship with a community leader who had an established connection to potential participants.

In our effort to understand the perspectives of female sex trade workers in the inner city, a female co-investigator, female graduate student, and female community research intern conducted two separate focus groups with women who were actively and formerly involved in the sex trade. The questions were semi-structured, focusing on present circumstances, future goals, as well as strengths and challenges the women had experienced. The group meetings lasted approximately 90 to 120 minutes each and were held at comfortable locations for the women in local community organizations, with a focus on those providing services to women who were or had been involved in the sex trade, There are relatively few community-based agencies and programs for women in the inner city who have had involvement in the sex trade. The decision was made to approach one agency providing direct services to women presently involved, and one that provides services to women who had past involvement in the sex trade. Both agencies that were approached agreed to allow us to meet with their clients, on the understanding that any client of the agency or program could agree or disagree to participate. The criterion for inclusion was that the individual was a client of the agency program at the time of the study. The focus group meetings were advertised by posters and word of mouth, which included notice of an honorarium to recognize participants' expertise and time.

One focus group was held at a health, outreach, and resource service for women working in the sex trade. The agency offers a welcome and safe environment, meals, laundry and baths, free condoms, needles, heath education, and medical care on-site during drop-in hours. Twelve women participated, two of whom identified as transgendered, between the ages of 18 and 40. All lived in the inner city. Three lived in a residential hotel, two were staying at a homeless shelter, one lived with her parents, and approximately four were in rooming houses. The other participants did not disclose their current housing situations. Only one participant had completed grade twelve. The majority had between a grade seven and grade ten education. All were actively involved in the sex trade.

The second focus group was held at a community health centre. The program the women were involved in provides support, mentorship, and social services to women whose lives have been affected by childhood sexual abuse, domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, and addictions. Nine women participated in the interview. Half lived in the inner city. Only one woman said she was living in a rooming house and one was a homeowner, q-he rest were renting apartments or houses. Participants ranged in age from their early 20's to their late 40's. Four were receiving income assistance, three were employed, and two were in training programs. The women in this group had made the decision to leave the sex trade; however, the process of leaving was not easy. None were actively involved in the sex trade at the time of the meeting.

Results

In general, results of the focus group at the community resource centre for women involved in the sex trade support the contention that they did so out of economic necessity, and that they experienced multiple barriers to employment. Employment opportunities were desirable for economic as well as social reasons. Feeling part of a community was a desired outcome for the women, and one that they experienced multiple barriers to achieving. Instead, they had become reliant on the modest amount of income they received from welfare, which was not enough to live on, and made up the difference by working on the street, where they felt unsafe and excluded, except at the resource centre.

Their dealings with the income support system were fraught with difficulties. The women we talked to identified numerous problems with the system. For example, many were denied full benefits without any explanation. A common sentiment was that you had to "know how to work it (the system)". Even walking into the welfare office was unnerving. It seemed to the women as though they were assumed to be guilty of fraud or that they were somehow dangerous, given the many highly personal questions about their situations, and presence of glass dividers between them and the staff.

Additionally, the women said that they felt a lack of respect, and sometimes-outright discrimination by the welfare office. For example, one woman had a male worker who made her feel very uncomfortable, which she suspected was because the worker knew what she was involved in. Because of that, she felt that there was no way of rectifying the situation. Another woman reported that she was treated poorly because of the color of her skin.

These experiences with the system were part of a cycle that perpetuated itself. "The women wanted to find employment so that they would not have to rely on welfare benefits. But, discrimination, lack of education, and job experience were common experiences, and barriers to finding employment. When their efforts met these barriers, they found themselves returning to the welfare office, as well as the street, in order to make ends meet.

Women talked extensively about their struggles to meet basic needs, particularly adequate and safe homes. Two were living in a homeless shelter where there was a lack of privacy. Some were forced to live in communal settings, such as rooming houses, which they found stressful. Others lived with people who were into drinking and drugs; temptations that they were trying to avoid in order to stay sober. Many were forced to rent units in buildings in need of major repairs, operated by unresponsive landlords, or rooms in Main Street residential hotels.

Women also identified several issues related to personal safety. Because the housing that they could afford was in buildings and blocks amongst others who were struggling with similar issues, such as substance use and poverty, their own sense of safety was jeopardized. These similarities with their neighbors did not create a sense of social support. In fact, just the opposite happened: social isolation.

In addition to the general sense of insecurity arising from where they lived and who they lived with or beside, the women felt especially vulnerable because of their work in the sex trade. Their work was dangerous. They were vulnerable to everything from harassment to assault.

Many believed the police did not provide them with the same level of protection because of their profession. At best, police would treat their calls for help as a low priority, and with a high degree of scepticism. Some had been the victims of police brutality; others were reluctant to phone police because of how others in the neighbourhood would see that.

"The same people, their <>, whom they feared would call them out as a <> to police, would not help them either. Women said that they were also vulnerable because people in the area would not offer assistance, even at a time of crisis.

From their perspective, services are needed to help women meet their basic needs, cope with the realities of the sex trade, and re-establish themselves in their communities. They preferred services that catered to or were respectful of women in the sex trade.

The women said that the resource centre offered a range of key resources including meals, laundry facilities, and addictions referrals. They liked being "among their own kind" and said there was a family-like environment because they were not allowed to fight. They wanted to be involved in their communities, but felt there were few opportunities to do so. Once they were able to meet their basic needs, they welcomed opportunities to give back to others.

Women Who Left the Sex Trade

While the women at the health centre had made multiple attempts and achieved personal success toward their goal of leaving behind a street lifestyle, they continued to face barriers to finding gainful employment due to lack of experience and low levels of education. Several had moved from the downtown core in order to help themselves maintain distance from the street. Those with children in care were involved in dealings with the child welfare system to reestablish connections and become a larger part of their children's lives. Though they had not been street-involved for some time, the experience of relapse was a common one. They all continued to experience difficulties with social isolation, other than the social support provided at the centre, despite making many significant changes in their lives and having a strong desire to help others.

The barriers associated with education and employment experience continued to influence their lives.

It was also seen as important to have some physical separation from areas where a higher level of sex trade was happening. Because, during hard times, the close proximity makes it too tempting to return.

As part of their recovery, many were working to overcome substance use issues. They emphasized that they needed a home in which no one was "using" because they feared a relapse, and paid a high price for that.

Having decent housing, employment, and addressing substance issues, put those with children in the position to be more involved with the families. The women said it was important for them to have resources to assist them in raising their own children. For example, the enforcement of child support orders and non-punitive respite care were seen as important supports.

The transition from the sex trade was far from abrupt for women in this group; only a few had left the sex trade and not returned. Because welfare alone was inadequate to meet needs, several supplemented by working in the sex trade before they got decent-paying employment. Without adequate supports, crises led to relapse.

The women in this group indicated that they wanted to find work that enabled them to help others; however, entry-level positions in social services were too often low paying. Many had employment in the private sector and were able to make enough money to support their families.

The women wanted to build kinder, gentler communities that welcomed and supported them.

Discussion

Results of these interviews suggest that women experience multiple barriers to leaving the sex trade. Participants in our study reported that money was a driving force for their involvement, and the lack of opportunities for decent paying jobs kept them involved. They faced stigma from local staff and residents. They were denied social assistance benefits they were entitled to and made to feel uncomfortable by social workers. They risked serious physical harm each time they went with a sex-trade client. Concerns about personal safety were connected to personal isolation and a lack of good housing. They felt unsafe at work and at home. Participants also felt that neither law enforcement nor community residents cared about them; the police did not take their complaints seriously. "They also felt that they could not rely on others in the neighbourhood to assist if needed (e.g. witness an assault). While they felt comfortable with services that catered to women in the sex trade, they wanted to access mainstream services and feel included in the community. They also wanted to participate in life skills programs, education for employment, but saw few opportunities to participate in programs that were not targeted to sex trade workers.

Women who recently left the sex trade continued to experience low income and poor jobs, due to a lack of work experience and education. They had families, and noted that the kinds of jobs they needed, had to fit with being a single mother and supply enough money to adequately care for their children and, in some cases, other family members. They faced recovery from addictions, for which ongoing support was needed. With few options for housing on their incomes, many lived in buildings or units with other people who were also struggling to manage problems with substance use, and also had few "clean" supports. Due to previous issues with child protection authorities, inadequate and unstable housing and income situations, they were acutely aware of how vulnerable they were to losing their children, relapsing with substances, or becoming homeless. Any of these could prompt a return to the street. Despite these challenges, the women wanted to look after their families and care for others in their neighbourhood. They tried to reach out to people who needed a hand.

Participants in this study, consistent with the literature, identified low income and lack of education as major barriers to leaving the sex trade. Adequate housing was a major barrier to transitioning out of the sex trade, according to women we spoke with, but had received little attention in the literature. The connection between housing and personal safety is crucial. Many women lived and worked in the same neighbourhood and wanted to be part of the community. Regardless of their level of involvement in the sex trade, both groups of women were left with the poorest of poor housing and little sense of belonging.

The women we talked to also felt stigmatized by the child protection and income assistance systems they had to deal with. This stigma was apparent in how they were treated by others, with the exception of friends who were also involved and service providers who worked specifically with women involved in the sex trade. Both groups of women felt vulnerable. For women who were involved, the vulnerability was related to being a victim of violence, and women who had left the street felt vulnerable to relapse.

The need for responsive and inclusive support networks that are close to home is apparent. Participants in the study wanted to live in a community where people share their talents, pool resources, watch out for each other's families, and feel welcomed. They wanted to be included in local groups, participating in community events and programs, where they could learn skills for employment. They felt that being welcomed into local community agencies open to all residents would be of great help to them and their families in developing broader support networks.

Conclusion

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the poverty, housing, violence, health, addiction, and enforcement themes is the interplay between them. None of these can be understood in isolation. They make up the complex web of circumstances that low-income sex trade workers contend with every day. In order to adopt a perspective that takes the interests of sex workers into account, it is critical to understand the complicated and subtle ways these issues affect them.

Women identified several barriers they faced to their transition out of the sex trade, including economic and social challenges, particularly poor housing and social isolation. While previous research has attended to the economic issues, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of adequate housing in the transition for women out of the sex trade. The results of the study suggest that housing continues to be a barrier for women leaving the sex trade. A range of decent housing options is needed. Additionally, little attention has been paid to the benefits of social supports in the local community that treat women like "residents" and not "clients". The women we spoke with saw community agencies having crucial roles in their transition, facilitating their development of a healthy and broad social network of support. In return, they wanted to help out other people in their community and saw local agencies as places where they could train, gain some work experience, and possibly a job. Finally, a range of social supports is needed, including transitional programs that teach job skills, provide employment experience, and a job. As well, parenting issues are an area of continued need for support. Services that advocate for women who have had child protection system involvement, as well as basic parenting information and support, as well as child care are essential. Finally, services that provide counselling and support for women dealing with trauma and substance use, are necessary.

The women we spoke to felt excluded by their community. They wanted to feel included, participate in regular events, and be connected with mainstream community organizations. All had their trust betrayed in the past, and so were understandably sceptical of the "good" intentions of others. Therefore, special attention is needed to bring them into safe community places for families and connect them to community organizations that provide services they need, such as parenting support, advocacy when dealing with child protection and income support systems, day care, employment skills and work experience programs. Specialized services, such as programs for recovery from trauma or substance use should also be more readily accessible.

Acknowledgments

This research was financially supported by the Winnipeg Inner-city Research Alliance (WIRA), which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

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Jason Brown Nancy Higgitt Christine Miller Department of Family Social Sciences University of Manitoba

Susan Wingert Department of Sociology The University of Western Ontario

Mary Williams Larry Morrissette North End Housing Project
People do abuse the welfare system, but most get abused
   by the system.

   The welfare office treats you like a criminal. There's a
   glass divider you have to talk through, but you don't
   want to shout out your personal info. If they suspect
   you are street-involved, they will cancel any emergency
   money or cut you off.


My EIA [welfare] worker is male. He smiles at me and
   it makes me uncomfortable.

   Welfare discriminates based on your street-involvement
   or race. It's stupid. They shouldn't do that. Treat us the
   same. They shouldn't discriminate.


I was denied for a training program because I'm a
   tranny [transgendered].

   I have a grade ten education, but they pushed me
   through. I have trouble reading and writing. I feel
   stupid, but I ask for help.

   I need to apply for jobs while I'm on welfare, but
   without references I can't get a job.


It's hard to find a place to live. You only get so much on
   welfare and it's not enough. I don't want to live in a
   rooming house. I want my own kitchen and bath.

   I get $317 [from welfare] for rent. I can't find a
   place. I shouldn't have to use living money for rent.

   Hotels will spend money to make the beverage room
   look good, but the rooms are shit. They only want to
   make money on liquor sales. They don't care about
   residents.

   My room is cold. I need a heater. The shower doesn't
   work. The walls are filthy. The landlord said it had
   been renovated, but they only changed the carpet.

   The hotel I live in is a historical building. You can't
   cook in your room because you might start a fire. I
   have to eat at the resource centre, stay with friends, or
   buy foods that don't need cooking or refrigerating.


The doors to the hotel are locked at midnight and there
   is no night watchman to let the cops in if there's an
   emergency.

   The panhandlers are drunk and they get aggressive. I
   don't want to go out walking.

   There are lots of crack heads and crack houses. It's really
   bad in the summer. They are full of infections. I'm
   trying to stay away from crack, but it's tempting.


Working the street is dangerous. People yell, "You
   fucking ho!" They throw bottles and pennies at you.
   People are brave in their cars, but outside ... They
   think you're a crack head. They don't realize we need
   to eat and survive. When you're working the street, you
   need a partner to take down the license plate number
   of your date.


The cops beat me up and threatened to kill me and
   dump my body in the river.

   When you are the victim, the police don't show up. You
   have to wait twelve hours. Then they don't believe your
   story. They ask you if you've been drinking or doing
   drugs.

   If you phone the cops, you're known as a rat on Main
   Street.


The good people in the area won't help you. My boyfriend
   beat me up. He broke my ribs and I ended up having a
   miscarriage. I was knocking on people's windows and
   asking them to call me an ambulance. They wouldn't
   do it. I had to take a cab to the hospital.


Services are limited at places like walk in clinics and
   hospitals when you're street-involved. I know people
   who've died in waiting rooms at emergency.

   Training programs for adults who slipped through
   the system. Many adults have low education or are
   illiterate.

   We need more anger management programs because
   of abuse and rape. We need support groups and
   counselling because it's hard to drop the brick wall
   --it's protective.

   We need more places to be welfare advocates. I got the
   stuff I get today because of my advocate.


I want to have more involvement in the community.

   This resource centre gives women the opportunity to
   volunteer. It really helped me.


I was in the sex trade for twenty-six years because
   Aboriginal people lack education. Employers don't
   want to hire people in their 40s. I want to get off
   disability. I want a pay cheque and a house. I worked
   at [local bakery] but welfare takes the money. They
   should remove the claw back. Working for minimum
   wage, I'm not able to live.


I used to live where there was a lot of prostitution. It
   was too tempting not to work because it was easy money
   that I couldn't refuse. I ended up leaving the area.


Housing costs more than welfare pays so I have to
   supplement it. I choose to pay more for housing because
   crack heads can't afford it.

   We need houses that are drug-free enforced. It's hard to
   stay sober. You come into recovery but with no money
   so you live in poor housing.


Child support is not enforced. It's important for
   addictions recovery. You need to be able to get to
   meetings. There should be non-punishing respite that
   is not through Child Protection Services.

   Foster parents get paid a lot, but there is not support
   for parents.


I went back to prostitution after having a mental
   breakdown.

   I was out of the sex trade for fourteen years. I owned
   my own business. Then I got divorced and it brought
   my life to a crippling halt. The legal system is holding
   things up. My crack head ex-husband is still in the
   house. I relapsed after eight years of sobriety. I was
   on disability while I recovered from PTSD (Post
   Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was forced to work
   after leaving the sex trade with no support.


We need soup kitchens.. I would work there, but they
   only pay $6.50 per hour. I want to make a living. I
   want to get off social assistance.

   I'm working, but I don't like my job. I work for
   a corporation. They are always giving free stuff to
   executives who don't need it. I want to work in social
   services, but I'm a single parent so I can't quit my job.
   Daycare is expensive. I want to make enough money
   and be able to make a difference.

   It doesn't make sense. People are paid $12-20 per
   hour to take money out of people's pockets. But if
   you are working to make a difference, you get $9 per
   hour. I'm working in a helping profession. It's my
   God given work, but people mean less than paper.


According to scripture, "It takes a village to raise a
   child."

   We have the biggest hearts because we've been through
   everything. We need to respect each other. We need
   more compassion and love.
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