EDITORIAL: Access for all women

The Howe Sound Women’s Centre does amazing work advocating and protecting women in the Sea to Sky Corridor.

Its transition house, Pearl’s Place Transition House offers a safe and secure place within Squamish for women and their children leaving abuse.

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The centre, along with the store that supports the shelter, Pearl’s Value & Vintage, deservedly won Non-Profit of the Year last week at the Squamish Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards.

But there is a gap in the system that should be fixed.

The local shelter is not fully accessible for people with disabilities.

It is a two-storey structure with resident bedrooms, the kitchen and most common areas on the second floor.

There is no elevator.

Women with disabilities are welcome, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Centre told The Chief, so long as the configuration of the house does not put the resident or staff in danger of injury.

Fair enough.

This is definitely not a criticism of the staff or their intentions.

Staff work with those who can’t be accommodated to find emergency housing. That can include the homeless shelter.

“While Pearl’s Place Transition House is not fully accessible, the Howe Sound Women’s Centre also operates Pearl’s Safe Home in Pemberton,” a representative BC Housing, the provincial body responsible for the shelter, told The Chief

No offence, but that isn’t good enough. Women want to be close to what is familiar in these times of distress. Why should they have to leave their community because they aren’t as able-bodied as their sisters?

This isn’t a localized problem.

 BC Housing acknowledges that many transition houses in the province are located in residential homes and a number of these homes, especially older ones, are not fully accessible due to structural challenges.

It is not all doom and gloom ­— some progress is undoubtedly being made.

Some transition houses have been modified and renovated to increase accessibility.

“Women with disabilities are at an increased risk of violence, which is why it is a priority for us to address issues of accessibility through renovations or new construction where possible,” a BC Housing spokesperson told The Chief.

The Building BC: Women’s Transition Housing Fund will mean $734 million over the next 10 years to build and operate 1,500 new units of housing including transition houses, safe homes, second-stage and long-term housing.

But more of a sense of urgency is needed. We owe it to these women to make the process of escaping violence as smooth and barrier-free as possible.

Donate to Howe Sound Women Centre, if you can, so they have the funding they need to support women in the corridor.

Write to the Premier and tell him to do even more to support all women fleeing violence.

Ask federal candidates how they will make accessibility a priority if elected this fall, and then put your vote where your heart should be.

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