They wanted to create a space where victimized women could find some help. They wanted a place to offer up a cup of tea, along with hope, warmth and love.
And that’s exactly what the woman of Pearl Life Renewal have done, with the opening of the Pearl Resource Centre on Main Street. With its soft, chandelier lighting, cozy furnishings and soothing atmosphere, the downtown Chilliwack centre is ready to welcome women and lift them up. Pearl Life Renewal’s founder, Joan Goosen, started the centre in the hopes of helping sex workers restart their lives.
It’s been almost a year since Goosen shared her vision of a first-step, drop-in ministry. She and Tamara Brown, a former sex worker, worked together tirelessly to raise funds and education about prostitution and sex trafficking, and the effect it has on women. Running on faith and donations, they opened the doors earlier this week on Main Street. The building was perfect for their needs, and they’ve even been able to re-use some of the furnishings and equipment left behind by the previous tenant, a bakery.
“All kinds of miracles have happened in this place,” Goosen says during a tour of the space on Wednesday. There’s a front reception area, a quiet meeting room for one-on-one counselling, a bright dining room which doubles as a classroom, and a full galley kitchen. That leads to a larger living room and meeting area, with a second reception area. There are also shower facilities, a washer and dryer, and a clothing closet, to help the women transition from life on the street.
“This has turned out to be a really good space for us,” Goosen says. “It took a while but it’s just what we needed.”
They’ve also recently received their registered charity status, so they can now provide tax receipts as well as apply for grants.
During the tour, the volunteer staff were busy taking part in their ongoing training. They are ready to greet women who are working as sex trade workers, whether they feel ready to change their lives immediately or not.
“We know it’s a process,” Goosen says. And they are counting on word spreading among the community that the centre is now open, and accessible. Right now, they are open three days a week, Monday through Wednesday. With more funding, they’ll be able to expand their services to five or even seven days a week.
Accessing Pearl’s services takes some commitment from the women, Goosen explains. They will have to go through an intake process to identify goals, and to commit to weekly check ins to help measure progress. After that, classes are offered on a drop-in, first-come first-served basis. And those classes can be life changing.
They are providing a menu of services to help women reach goals in their lives, whether it’s finding shelter, learning healthy boundaries in relationships, learning how to cook, or gaining coping skills.
For example, they are leading the four-hour RentReady introduction course, and the six week RentSmart certificate course. The course teaches people how to be good tenants, and how they can gain an edge when meeting potential landlords. They learn about tenants’ rights and responsibilities, budgeting, maintenance and more.
They can also take courses in coping, connections, legal help, self care, creativity, cooking and faith.
Goosen and Brown know they are providing a much-needed service, and that when women are ready to come to them, they will. Goosen is part of a ministry that meets beside Chilliwack’s needle exchange every other Friday afternoon; she knows the local need is dire.
“Girls are recruited from everywhere,” Goosen says, including parties and bars. “They want to be loved. They tell them they’re beautiful and they want to hear that.”
Goosen is a clinical counsellor, and hopes that the success of the clinic will lead to another necessary support system — second step housing. They hope to open the Life Renewal Women’s Academy in 2018, offering shelter and more structured programming. And to get to those goals, they are holding their second annual Fundraising and Dessert evening.
It’s on Nov. 25, at Main Street Church, and will include a presentation by Brian McConaghy, a former forensic scientist with the RCMP who now works to improve the lives of women and children around the world. Part of his work includes preparing victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking to re-enter society as healthy adults.
Tickets for the evening are $10, available by calling 1-888-995-9327. For more information, visit them at www.pearlliferenewal.com.