It’s one of Canada’s most well-known neighbourhoods for all the wrong reasons. Some of Canada’s most marginalized and poorest people live in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Nearly 40% of those faces are women struggling to raise families and overcome challenges most people can’t fathom, such as physical and sexual abuse, substance use and mental illness.

“Women in the Downtown Eastside need more help. I could have used more help when I was there,” explains Ceejai Julian, a peer specialist in the area. “More resources are needed to help women. I know we can do better.”

That is why Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation joined forces to build a female-focused approach to health care policy, programs and services throughout Vancouver Community Health Services, including launching the first women-only Intensive Case Management Team (ICMT), a program built around women helping women. The interdisciplinary team is designed for women who face high levels of marginalization, are unable to access existing VCH health services, face multiple barriers to care and have substance use and/or mental health challenges. The team will give these women the healthier and happier lives they deserve. The first women-only ICMT is a product of both strong vision and generous philanthropy.

“Risa and I were looking at ways to make a contribution to our community, particularly for vulnerable populations,” says Bill Levine. “We supported the ICMT because it’s an urgent need and vulnerable women will really benefit from these programs. They will get the care they need within their own community, within environments where they are comfortable.”

This is an innovative and high-impact solution to address the disproportionate susceptibility and risks for vulnerable women in Vancouver – it is essentially health care embracing women in the DTES. These vulnerable women are getting what they need, where they live. And visionary philanthropy made it happen.