Business owners have complained over the years about the safety of their late- and early-shift employees, and about the impression the neighbourhood leaves with suppliers and clients.
For Barnes the problem became acute in 2002, when the number of sex workers in the industrial lands suddenly spiked.
And much like the controversies surrounding Insite, Vancouver’s landmark safe-injection drug facility, talk of decriminalization and/or legal amnesty for sex workers has drawn intense protest.
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“I get emails and phone calls years after seeing some guys; they just have to touch base and thank me because I made such a difference in their lives. She doesn’t see herself as a victim or a criminal; she sees herself as a businesswoman.
However, prostitution in Canada is far from a legitimate business, despite the fact the practice is technically legal.
Similarly, in the early ’90s, Mount Pleasant residents teamed up with police to carry out “shame the john” campaigns, publishing the names of sex workers’ clients, and in 2003 Yaletown residents pressured city hall to forbid escort agencies and massage parlours from operating in its live/work areas.
If the same sort of thing happens in the Downtown Eastside, where will the trade go next?
“We want to change the way things are run in the industry,” Bella says.
Another group of sex workers is pushing for a co-op brothel in east Vancouver to bring street-level sex workers indoors, while a third is launching a legal challenge to strip away Canada’s prostitution laws altogether.
That question worries Patricia Barnes, director of the neighbouring Hastings North Business Improvement Association (BIA), whose territory covers the commercial strip along Hastings Street east of Commercial Drive as well as a swath of light industry stretching south from the Vancouver port.