Building Safer Spaces for the Underserved and Vulnerable in Inner City St. John's

Lay Summary 

The original idea for this project was to try to meet the needs of women who might need a supportive place to spend time and have safe social access. Women had become less frequent clients in the regular StreetReach program. Service providers identified a number of reasons for this and were willing to try a new volunteer program with volunteer medical students one afternoon a week. The consultation widened to include Marguerites Place, which had begun to develop its own outreach service aimed primarily at women involved in the sex industry in St. John's. A wider consultation was held in the Fall of 2013 with the Sexual Assault Centre, THRIVE, StreetReach, Marguerite's Place, the CASEY Program and medical students. There was wide spread support for the idea of providing a health care service rather than a drop in service and the students decided that they would respond to the partners' call for an inclusive, judgment free clinic aimed at women who had unmet health needs due to discrimination, fear or lack of access to a consistent care giver. At the same time, changes in the service providers' ability to support an additional afternoon of outreach meant that the original safe space idea had to be put on hold. The project became more complicated as the partner organizations decided that they did not have the resources they needed to support the project as it was originally envisioned. We shifted our focus more to preparing students for the complex needs of marginalized women in the clinical setting. Our amended program that focused on preparation of students to meet the challenges of working with exploited women was very successful with two full day training sessions and third planned for the winter. Speakers included community partners and women involved in sex work as well as faculty. The students learned from partners and from women in the community. Evaluations indicated that the sessions on working with sexually exploited women and youth prepared students for an advocacy role and generated a greater empathy. The students have embarked on a process to develop a clinical service in partnership with other organizations to provide for unmet needs in this population.

Faculty of Medicine
Memorial University Public Engagement Quick Start Fund
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Industry Sectors 
Health Care and Social Assistance
Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services
Partner Organization 
Planned Parenthood-NL Sexual Health Centre
Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre
Global Health Office (Faculty of Medicine)