New Brunswick

New Moncton centre for sex workers only one of its kind in New Brunswick

A safe space offering support to more than 70 sex workers in the Moncton area is expected to open in a downtown home next month.

Connection Centre offers safe space, along with support for sex workers who want a different life

Jenn Fredericks, chair of the Sex Workers Action Group in Moncton and an outreach worker with the Moncton YWCA, stands in the room that will soon be a quiet, safe space in the new Connection Centre for sex workers. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Jenn Fredericks, an outreach worker with the Moncton YWCA, knows 70 sex workers in the area, and says the number one thing they ask for is a safe space to go in the city.

Next month such a centre will open in an old home in downtown Moncton, and Fredericks expects to see about 50 of the women who work in the sex trade visit regularly.

"It's been on the radar since I've started the past three years and to see it actually happening is just really huge," Fredericks said.

"My hope is that individuals will be empowered to be who they are. To be empowered to move forward if that's what they choose."

When I talk to the individuals they can't believe that this is a reality and that people went to bat for them to advocate to have this space- Jean Fredericks, outreach worker

The Connection Centre is a joint project of the Moncton YWCA, the Salvus Clinic, Crossroads for Women, Ensemble and the YMCA's ReConnect program. It is being funded in part by the City of Moncton, which is providing a grant of $50,000.

Organizers say it will be the only centre of its kind in the province and will offer sex workers a hot meal, a place to take a shower or a nap, peer support and trauma counselling.

Fredericks said it will also offer access to services and supports such as affordable housing, mental health and addictions counselling.

Discussed community concerns

According to Fredericks and other non-profit groups and outreach workers, Moncton is the hub of prostitution in New Brunswick, with many people passing through the city as they travel between Halifax and Ontario.

A community meeting this past October brought together non-profit groups, along with business owners and residents of the Dufferin Street and St. George Street area, where street-level sex work is most visible.

Coun. Charles Leger took part in the two-day meeting and said residents and businesses have "real" concerns about sex workers and the unwanted traffic they bring to the neighbourhood.

St. George Street and Dufferin Street to the north is a well-known area for sex workers in Moncton. A new centre, funded in part by the City of Moncton, will connect individuals who work in the sex trade with housing, mental health and addiction supports. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Leger said the RCMP do their best to enforce the laws, but he believes the new Connection Centre will be able to get to the heart of the problems that lead to prostitution. Enforcement isn't the need, he said.

"It's the compassion. It's giving people a place to go to give them the opportunity to make perhaps a different choice. And really, that's what it's all about." 

CBC News spoke with business owners along St. George Street and residents of Dufferin Street. While no one was willing to do an interview, people did express concerns about the "johns" that frequent their streets and the sex workers who stand on the sidewalks.

Coun. Charles Leger and Dr. Susan Crouse from the Salvus Clinic are both members of Moncton's Sex Workers Action Group or SWAG. They stand in a room that will serve as a private counselling space. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

"The city is recognizing that as the city grows, it has challenges," Leger said. "The better we deal with homelessness and these issues the better … all of Moncton will be. We have to live together."

Residents of Dufferin Street told CBC News they feel like they have been forgotten. Although they all said they support the new centre for sex workers, they hope it will be part of a larger solution for their neighbourhood.

'These life experiences don't define you'

The centre will be downtown but the precise location is not being made public. Fredericks said outreach workers will share that with the individuals for whom the centre is intended.

It will be open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. since that is the time of day when many who work in the sex trade are waking up and getting ready.

Many non-profit groups are working together to open the new safe space for sex workers. The site of the connection centre will not be publicized to protect the individuals for whom it is intended. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

"We really wanted to remove the barrier … many individuals have a struggle to get to organizations that operate through the traditional times of 8:30 to 4:30."

Fredericks said having a place for sex workers where they are accepted and there is no judgment or stigma is huge.

In response to the growing concern around sex workers in downtown Moncton, the city's Sex Workers Action Group, or S.W.A.G., is trying something new. 9:41

"When I talk to the individuals they can't believe that this is a reality and that people went to bat for them to advocate to have this space," she said.

"We really want this centre to be a place where, 'You are worthy,' and it doesn't matter where you are right now in life, there is always something else — these life experiences, they don't define who you are."

Saint John also offers support

Julie Dingwell, executive director of Avenue B, formerly AIDS Saint John, estimates her city has between 60 and 90 women working in the sex trade.

Julie Dingwell, executive director of Avenue B, formerly known as AIDS Saint John, said a safe space specifically for sex workers is something that would benefit her city as well. (CBC)

Avenue B offers a Thursday evening drop-in that is aimed at sex workers and is part of the Sex Trade Action Committee that was started in 2003.

Dingwell said the new connection centre in Moncton is an exciting idea that could be an example for the rest of the province.

"I love it," she said. "I hope the City of Saint John is listening."

"We have a harm reduction committee with the city right now, and the mayor is very heavily engaged, so we're moving along too."

Dingwell said the sex trade is often hidden because of the advent of technology.

"They hook up by cellphone and that's because, of course, the federal government made it so that they would charge the johns, not the sex workers, so the johns have to really make sure they are safe."