Thursday, September 12, 2013

If PEERS was a person, I guess I'd call this love

Find the newsletter at http://www.peers.
    I can’t think of many former employers that I would happily continue to work for without pay. But PEERS Victoria is clearly one of them, seeing as it’s been six years since I finished my time there as executive director and yet I still threw my hand up with genuine enthusiasm last month when asked to put together PEERS’ latest newsletter.
   What is it about the place that has caused this permanent attachment? 
    Part of it is the passion I feel for doing something that gets us thinking about how we judge and marginalize sex workers. Another big part is the amazing, resilient and loving people I have met over the years because of my association with PEERS and sex work – both the people come for services and those who come to work or volunteer there. A lot of us appear to be bonded to the place for life.
   But the other thing that ties me to PEERS is that after spending three years observing its grassroots model in action, I’m a believer. PEERS was created by and for sex workers, and in its best moments it is capable of amazing work. When things are going right at PEERS, you really feel the power of grassroots action to change lives.
   Things are not exactly going right at PEERS in this moment, unfortunately. The great staff and volunteers are still there – many of them the same ones I worked with during my time at PEERS – but the resources to run the place aren’t. (Read an earlier blog of mine here to understand more about how the current financial situation came about.)
   PEERS has had to give up its daytime drop-in, its group programs, and all the many community connections that have grown out of that vital work. Outreach services continue, and that’s a very good thing, but the drop-in and group programs were the all-important next steps for many outreach clients.
   Harm-reduction and referral services directly on Victoria’s stroll are obviously very important for the vulnerable, street-entrenched women who are frequent PEERS clients. But to no longer have the next step – the services that support people who need outreach first but then are ready for bigger changes in their lives – well, that’s a cruel folly.
   To no longer have one safe, judgment-free place where sex workers can go, in whatever shape they are in on a particular day, gives the lie to all that hand-wringing we did after the Pickton trial revealed just how complicit we all are in creating the conditions for murder.
   Vast sums were spent on Pickton’s prosecution and an inquiry into those horrible, shameful years in B.C. - $102 million on the trial, almost $8 million on the inquiry. For that kind of money, PEERS Victoria could run its day programs and drop-in for the next 366 years. And what did all that spending result in for the province’s sex workers? Fewer services. PEERS Vancouver closed last year, and PEERS Victoria is struggling to hold on. As they go, nobody else is stepping up to do this specialized type of work. (The 2012 inquiry is titled "Forsaken." Fitting.)
   I hope you’ll check out the newsletter, and consider passing it on to others who might want to know more about this situation or have ideas for new funding sources for PEERS Victoria.
   About $300,000 a year would restart the drop-in and day programs. On the one hand, that’s not much. On the other, that’s way beyond bake sales and car washes. While individual donations are always welcome at PEERS, what I’m wishing for is that someone within government who cares about the issue will step up quietly to guide the way to a good funding fit. Somebody out there knows where there’s money for this important work.
   Running PEERS was the toughest job I’ve ever had, and there were lots of times when I’d be  crying in the car on the way home. That was definitely a first for me. But there were many moments of something akin to bliss, too, where I would look around at all these caring people trying to pull each other through and just see all the love and optimism in that work.
   What a pleasure it has been to stay connected with so many of my PEERS friends for nine years now, and to see the tremendous changes they have brought about in their own lives and those of others who they’ve since reached out to. And I’m very happy that the PEERS gang still thinks of me when a newsletter needs doing, because that tells me that the bond goes both ways.

   Please keep the buzz going about this issue. Keep the media comments and the emails circulating. May the office phones of our MLAs and MPs ring incessantly with demands to do something about this unacceptable loss of services.


Unknown said...

Thanks Jody. Another succinct article and cause communicated with compassion and love.

Carol dlH said...

Bravo, Jody! An articulate, much-needed comment on the betrayal, abandonment and 'limb'-amputation suffered by everyone connected with PEERS and its excellent work, after the latest rounds of funding cuts.
I'm forwarding your article to several MPs in different parties -- perhaps some warms hearts and far-seeing minds will join together to help restore this crucial resource to our community.

Anonymous said...

tangentially related

Why Efforts to 'Fix' Floundering Youth Fail

Assumptions about unemployment and street involvement can undermine our attempts to help.

By Pieta Woolley, Tyee Solutions Society

daxieowner said...

I've followed Jody's work and writing for well over a decade. A better person for this could not be found, but clearly the organization needs financial support.
If you can't help with $s, perhaps you can share the information with someone who can. Spread the word.

Patrice said...

Hola Jody, Bravo indeed! memory of jannit, we have done this one pager to help: please pass sol, Patrice