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Christmas in Vancouver's brothels and sex work strolls

What are the holidays like for one of our city's most marginalized communities? VO brings you into Vancouver's brothels and onto its street corners to find out, invited by Jen's Kitchen outreach and advocacy project.

Jennifer Allan, founder of Jen's Kitchen, prepares a sandwich to deliver to sex workers. Photo by David P. Ball.

During the holiday season, there's a lot of talk about helping the poor and less fortunate. We are often reminded that Christmas is about generosity and giving.
And though many make charitable donations or volunteer at this time of the year, we at the Vancouver Observer wondered what the holiday season is like for survival sex workers – among our city's most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Invited by Jen's Kitchen – a food, outreach and advocacy organization we profiled on December 6 – VO met women on the Downtown Eastside's street strolls, an illegal brothel and a government-run transitional housing agency one rainy and cold night.
“On Christmas day, it's sad to be a sex industry worker,” said Jennifer Allan, a former sex worker herself and founder of Jen's Kitchen. “Everyone else has food and gifts, and you really feel left out.
“You don't have any money – and often your family's passed on or you can't get along with them. Or they might say, 'Sure, you're welcome to come home for Christmas dinner.' But the thing about Christmas dinner is you've got to hear about how you shouldn't be out on the street – it's not really a nice Christmas dinner to have.”
Allan took the Vancouver Observer on an exclusive tour of the Downtown Eastside, delivering more than 50 lunch bags and safer drug paraphernalia – and along the way she shared her vision of how the city could better support survival sex workers.
That vision includes a 24-hour crisis counselling and drop-in centre for workers, categorizing violence against sex workers as a hate crime, offering more services for people who want to exit the sex industry, and opening a sex worker-only emergency shelter.

In September, the city released a report on the sex industry, which revealed that Vancouver has 1,000-2,000 street sex workers, but that is likely only about 20 per cent of the overall industry. Sex work has a racial component as well: 40 per cent of street sex workers are Indigenous (despite making up two per cent of the population); an estimated 40 per cent of indoor sex workers are women of colour.

Here is what VO discovered about spending the holidays on the strolls and in the brothels.

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