Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today.
Atira Women's Resource Society was incorporated in March 1983, and we opened our first transition house in South Surrey in 1987. Then called the Atira Transition House, its mandate was to support battered women and their children. In keeping with the practice of the time, this meant that women were screened in or screened out, based on a number of onerous screening criteria. For example, if you disclosed that you struggled with substance use or you had a mental health diagnosis, you were turned away. If you lied in order to secure that desperately needed space and you were discovered, you were asked to leave, regardless of the consequence to you.
In September 1992, Janice Abbott came on board as our executive director, and things quickly changed. Based on her lived experience, she understood the deep-rooted relationship between women's experiences of violence and struggles with substance use and mental wellness, and that by excluding these women from receiving services we were causing harm to the very women and children we were meant to support.
Within just a few months, Atira did away with its lengthy screening process and started asking only one question when a person called for space: “Are you fleeing violence?”
Because of this, we were one of the few transition houses, if not the only one, opening their doors to women struggling with substance use and/or mental wellness. We started getting more referrals than we were able to accommodate. The increase in demand was so high that in 1997 we opened a second transition house in Surrey called Shimai, and a second-stage transition house called Koomseh.
From there, we began to expand quickly, and by 2001 we operated the Downtown Eastside's first women-only housing. We now operate more than 23 residential programs for women and their children, including some of Canada's lowest-barrier, women-only housing, as well as a number of innovative non-residential programs, including the world's first—