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HERstory of Hope: Shining a Light on Women and Addiction

When we look back, we will remember 2021 for many sombre reasons—the pandemic, unmarked burial sites at residential schools, the Taliban in Afghanistan—but there is another to consider, and it is happening right here in Vancouver.

A staggering statistic that few realize and even fewer are talking about is that last year marked the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths among females in British Columbia. That means 484 women died from an overdose—a 45% increase over 2020—and the numbers are rising. Yet, women in Vancouver who are seeking treatment for addiction face longer wait times than men, which means more women slip back into addiction.

Part of the problem is that women struggle with different barriers to recovery access than men. They shoulder childcare needs, complex family histories, abuse that includes trauma from violence or exploitation, involvement in survival sex work, and other safety concerns, and these issues require special support. Women from marginalized or vulnerable groups, such as Indigenous women, who are vastly overrepresented on Vancouver’s east side, face additional, intersecting issues.

“For too long, women’s needs have been overlooked,” says Sabine Kempe, chair of the HERstory of Hope committee and Greater Vancouver Advisory Board member. “Now is the time to shine a spotlight on the unique issues and challenges women with addiction face and to come together to solve this problem.”

In Vancouver, availability and accessibility of treatment options for women are extremely limited, leaving women with little or no options for recovery. But The Salvation Army is aiming to change that issue with its HERStory Campaign.

In what will be the single largest investment The Salvation Army has ever made, this summer, the organization will break ground on a new $100 million, nine-storey Vancouver Harbour Light facility. In the heart of that building will be the DIANE HARWOOD Centre for Women, designed specifically for women, and offering a much-needed solution by providing the safety and support women need to rebuild their lives—without discrimination.

“It is important to reduce the shame and stigma many women feel when talking about addiction issues so that more women come forward to get the help they need,” Kempe says. “Since the declaration of a public health emergency in 2016, 1,842 women have died of overdose deaths, which is concerning since healthy women are central to our families, communities and essential services—and critical to the wellbeing of society.”

The DIANE HARWOOD Centre will offer 18 single day rooms with private washrooms for phase one (90 day) and phase two (60 day) treatment, and four self-contained rooms for women in phase 3 (seven months plus). Residents will be supported by dedicated counselors, 24-hour staffing supports, and wrap-around services, including group and individual counseling, arts, recreational activities, education, and vocational training.

“At this point we are asking people to get involved and help us shine a light on the issue,” says Kempe. “Share the message on social media, visit the website, and learn more about the issue. Share your words of hope with these women online. Your support will make a difference.”

Visit and share your words of hope and support for women facing addiction.

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