So...including the world's first community-accessible, women-only safe injection room.
Atira now comprises five entities, including two wholly owned for-profit subsidiaries, Atira Property Management and the Painter Sisters painting company, and two related non-profit societies, the Atira Development Society and the Atira women's arts society.
In 25 years, we have become known for our entrepreneurship, risk-taking and innovative programming and housing—for example, Canada's first multi-unit recycled shipping container development, as well as the Maxxine Wright place, a multi-service, multi-part program focused on keeping moms and their kids together.
The projects are often started on shoestring budgets but with amazing partnerships. They are always in response to the needs of the women and children and based on feedback from our staff who identify gaps in services.
We are also known for taking controversial stands, including supporting and upholding the rights of women who do sex work; opening our doors to transgender and gender-queer women and to non-binary individuals who identify as significantly femme; and setting up shared-use spaces in our buildings without the benefit of legal protection.
Our CEO continues to show bold leadership, coming to the table with amazing ways to respond to challenging needs identified by the women and staff, and inspiring us all to take risks and believe that ending all forms of gendered violence is absolutely possible.
I'd like to take you now through some of the things we've learned over our more than 35 years of experience working alongside women and their children.
First, almost all women who have accessed our programs have been, or have children who are currently, in the care of the Ministry of Child and Family Development. Women who have experienced trauma and violence and who are struggling with that trauma are often holding on by a thread. They are surviving, often living in chaos as a result of their circumstances, trying to find safe, affordable housing for their families, and then their children are apprehended. That thread that they are holding on to disappears. This often leads to struggles with substance use, homelessness, street-level sex work and violent relationships with men, and the intergenerational cycle continues.
We need to keep moms and their kids safely together. We need to do this by providing housing that is affordable, providing support services that offer information and supports around life skills, and providing resources and referrals to outreach teams that can support moms once they leave first- and second-stage transitional housing into subsidized or private market housing.
Second, in 2017 Atira housed close to 2,000 women and their children through first- and second-stage transitional housing and through long-term supported housing. Unfortunately, we have had to turn away more than three times as many women and children as we were able to house. This is due to the lack of space.
We need more housing with operational agreements that adequately reflect the needs of our program. This means food budgets for community kitchens to teach life skills and build support networks; repairs and adequate maintenance budgets; and 24-7 staff who allow women to develop relationships and trust to support them through the next steps in their journey.
Third, Atira supports a disproportionate number of first nation, Métis and Inuit women. More than 70% of the women who access our programs in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and Surrey are women who identify as indigenous. According to the Canadian Women's Foundation, indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-indigenous women.
We need culturally appropriate housing for indigenous women and their children, with support services to reconnect them or connect them for the first time with lost culture and healing practices and ceremonies. We need to honour and recognize the continued effects of residential schools and the multi-generational trauma that still happens every day.
I'd like to give you a little example of what that looks like. Recently, a young indigenous woman, aged 19, was brought to our Imouto program by another organization that wasn't able to offer her support. She was tired, scared and incredibly shy. She came to Downtown Eastside to stay with her uncle, who became extremely violent and tried to force her into sex work. When she ran away, she was alone, lost, hungry and she had no money. When she got to Imouto, she wasn't connecting with staff and barely spoke to anyone at all. Staff were finally able to build some trust with her and figured out that she wanted to return home. Neither her band nor her family could or would provide her with the bus ticket she needed to make that journey back. Staff provided arrangements to drive her to a reserve near Keremeos. When they got into her territory, she completely changed, telling stories of her auntie and talking about the mountains and her family. She's still living there and she's thriving.
This program, Imouto, is currently single-staffed, and we are required to raise more than $160,000 each year from the public to keeps its doors open. Without this program, this young woman would likely have been lost to the Downtown Eastside.
Finally, I would like to say that because of years of no increase in funding for housing for women victims of violence, Atira has had to be creative with building new housing and partnering with different levels of government through cash funding, donations of land use and waiving of permit fees. We have also had to—