06/04/2012 03:12 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Union Gospel Mission makes women's day shelter permanent

The Union Gospel Mission is turning their women's day shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside a permanent program after a successful three-month pilot.

The project, which first opened in February, is being touted as a success in providing shelter for women fleeing violence, unsafe housing or homelessness in the Downtown Eastside. During the three-month pilot, 12 street-entrenched women were recommended for permanent housing or placed in a recovery program.

The UGM is one of only six 24-hour shelters for women in the city and the only one that provides users with their own space during the day, whereas most shelters require women to leave in the morning and spend the day on the street.

"You end up going back to some guy's house, you know, where the girls do sexual acts or whatever just to get a cup of coffee or just lay down for a couple of hours," said Mary Isabelle Rogers, a current shelter user.

Suzanne Doucet, 56, said the shelter has been a huge help.

"I can rest, I can have a shower," she said. "It gives me a place to re-group so I can do appointments."

'I can do this'

According to yearly homeless counts, the number of women living on the streets in Vancouver has been on the rise in recent years.

In working to tackle the systemic issues that result in chronic homelessness, the UGM is using what they call a "wrap around model" in which workers identify supportive people in the women's lives in order to help them move forward.

"They're coming in just exhausted with a world view that nothing is ever going to change, and leaving, with a, 'Yeah I can do this, I have people on my team, I have support,'" said Barbara Atkins, the manager of Women and Family Centre.

The Union Gospel Mission, which operates a men's shelter and a family centre, used empty space on their second floor to house the 14-bed women’s shelter.

Officials say the project is a small fraction of what the centre could offer in the future. The shelter is consistently full, often turning women away, but staff say they could double their capacity if they could secure additional funding.