Janice Abbott of Atira Empowers Women in Remarkable Ways
Janice Abbott, executive director of the Atira Women’s Resource Society has taken Atira from a non-profit organization with an $180,000 annual budget to a robust and respected organization that has provided refuge to thousands of vulnerable women in Vancouver, women who have been the victims of violence, primarily. Linda Solomon sat down with Abbott and talked about Atira's future and how you can help.
Linda Solomon: What are the three things you’ve accomplished at Atira Women’s Resource Society that you’re most proud of?
Janice Abbott:I'm proud of the following in no particular order:
1. When we first recognized the connection between women’s experience of violence/trauma and substance use/mental illness, back in December of 1992, and stopped screening women for same before they entered Atira House.
2. My decision back in 1992 or 1993 to drop the requirement women have a bachelor’s degree to work at Atira and instead focused on hiring women with lived experience.
This has led to an incredibly diverse staff that includes 40 per cent aboriginal women and 33 per cent women of colour.
3. Setting up and running the property management company.
Linda: What are your priorities for the future?
1. Developing more housing for women that is safe, affordable housing and supports them to be able to keep their children in their care.
2. Growing the property management company and perhaps expanding into other provinces, which I hope will allow us to develop more housing without having to rely on the largesse of government.
3. Creating more and better employment opportunities for folks with barriers to employment, which likely means setting up more businesses, like The Painter Sisters, a new program/enterprise of Atira.
4. Making sure I continue to love doing what I do.
Linda: How can people help Atira?
Janice: Obviously cash donations are always welcome. We raise about 27 per cent of our budget every year. And we absolutely love clean underwear and socks.
When we can give women who come into shelter new underwear and socks in their welcome bags, it’s a beautiful thing. There’s lots of stuff you can get second hand, but underwear and socks it’s just better to have new. And we have this amazing program called Enterprising Women Making Art. It’s a group of about 45 women from in the Downtown Eastside community, most of whom can’t engage in traditional forms of employment. So it’s a sort of individual entrepreneur program in which they create beautiful artisan objects. We’ve opened at store at Hastings and Hawkes and we’re looking for volunteers to work at that store. That would be another way to help us out. Or think about buying your gifts from the store.
Linda: Most of us feel helpless against the poverty we see in the city, but you’ve found solutions. In your opinion, what can individuals do?
Janice: Demand our politicians be committed to safe, affordable housing and a guaranteed income and a living wage.
Linda: So how do we get politicians and ourselves beyond the lip service we all tend to give to the issue?
Janice: That’s a deeper conversation and we should all be having it all the time.
I’d like people to ask government about procurement policies.
I’d like voters to demand that government demands the people who do business with us give back to the community - public spending for public benefit.
If we’re going to give out big government contracts and it is our money – yours and mine – I’d like it to mean those companies are employing people with barriers to employment or planting trees or opening grocery stores, contributing somehow to the well-being of the communities they’re operating in.
And I’d like to see a low income housing tax credit – something that would be an incentive for the private market to build non-market housing.
And I’d like to see drugs legalized. Prohibition didn’t work in the 20s and 30s and it’s not working now.
And if we can’t all love one another I’d like us at least to have empathy for one another.
Nothing and no one are what or who they appear to be on the surface.
What’s that adage about walking a mile in each others’ shoes?
Photos by Yukiko Onley