British Columbia

Youth volunteers launch safe walking program after recent stalking, racist incidents

A non-profit organization led by a group of youth volunteers in Vancouver is stepping up to help women and seniors feel safer in their communities after the recent increase of anti-Asian hate crimes and reports of alleged stalking incidents.

The Safe Buddies Program matches volunteers with people who don't feel safe walking alone

Vedanshi Vala says she felt it was 'extremely necessary' to launch the Safe Buddies program after reports of increase anti-Asian hate and alleged stalking incidents in Vancouver. (Vedanshi Vala/Submitted )

A non-profit organization led by a group of youth volunteers in Vancouver is stepping up to help women and seniors feel safer in their communities after the recent increase of anti-Asian hate crimes and reports of alleged stalking incidents.

Through the Bolt Safety Society's new Safe Buddies program, individuals who don't feel safe walking home alone are matched with a volunteer to walk or stay on the phone with them.

"Just one person being unsafe should be reason enough for a unified effort at the community level to improve safety," Bolt Safety Society executive director Vedanshi Vala said on CBC's On the Coast.

"But the recent reports ... [are] representative of the lack of safety in our communities at this very time."

Vancouver police have said anti-Asian hate crimes jumped by more than 700 per cent in 2020 as reports of incidents went from 12 in 2019 to 98 in 2020.

And last month, a woman was stalked by a suspicious man for 40 minutes near Chinatown.

Seniors aged 60 and over, women and non-binary people can request a safe buddy through the organization's website up to two hours before they need a volunteer.

Vala said all volunteers have been trained and will meet the individual at the requested time to either walk them to their final destination in Metro Vancouver, or be on the phone with them. 

"If they know they get off work at 6 o'clock ... around 4 p.m. they would go to our website and fill in the form to request a safe buddy," Vala said.

She said the program, which was launched Monday, has 12 volunteers who are ready to help. 

"Our first shift is 3 to 5 p.m., our second shift is from 5 to 7 p.m. and hopefully we can expand our service hours as we get more volunteers and more capacity to do so."

LISTEN | Listen to Vedanshi Vala speak about the Safe Buddies program on On The Coast: 

BOLT Safety Society Co-founder and Executive Director Vedanshi Vala on BOLT's new "Safe Buddies" walking program for women and non-binary people who don't feel safe walking alone. 5:00
Vala says all walking buddies must complete an online application, pass an interview, undergo training and complete a criminal background check. (Vedanshi Vala/Submitted)

With files from On the Coast

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