Charitable Choices: Sarah McIntosh of Atira Women’s Resource

As the Chief Operations Officer of Atira Women’s Resource Society, Sarah McIntosh leads initiatives to support women, gender-diverse individuals, and children impacted by violence. Under her guidance, Atira has experienced substantial growth, now providing housing for 1,500 women and 375 children each year. Recent advocacy endeavours by Atira have highlighted the critical necessity for focused investments in gender-specific housing concerns, rallying community support in response. We spoke with Sarah McIntosh, Chief Operations Officer, to learn more about them.

Atira Women's Resource

Describe your charity/nonprofit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Atira Women’s Resource Society is dedicated to supporting women, gender-diverse people, and children affected by violence across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. We offer safe and supportive housing, education, and advocacy aimed at ending all forms of gendered violence.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Dissolving the social inequalities that prevent women from rebuilding their lives, regaining their independence, and participating in the decisions that affect their well-being and happiness.

When did you start/join it?

I came to Atira over a decade ago as the Program Manager at Sereena’s. Sereena’s provides 56 units of supportive housing to vulnerable women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). From Sereena’s, I moved to Maxxine Wright Place, a partnership program that was created by Atira with the support of Fraser Health Authority and the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), in response to the rising number of at-birth apprehensions we were seeing in the community. The project is a co-located shelter, second-stage housing, an early care and learning centre, and a community health centre. Its mandate is to support women who are pregnant and early parenting. For the last nine years, I have been a Director, Executive Director, and Senior Executive Director. Recently, I was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer responsible for inspiring thought leadership, advocacy, and excellence in our operations at Atira Women’s Resource Society, Atira Property Management, Inc., Atira Women’s Art Society, and Atira Development Society. I am grateful for all the mentors and learning opportunities that have shaped my career and the amazing people I get to work with every day.

What made you want to get involved?

I wanted to work at Atira for the same reason that many of us at the organization do — we have a personal connection to the work we do and the mandate we support. My life experience, including my personal history and my passion for social justice and advocacy, made me gravitate towards working — alongside women — for women and children.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I first started at Sereena’s, Atira was much smaller. There were around 13 residential and 11 non-residential programs at that time and with a staff count of less than half of what we have now. Today, Atira houses 1,500 women and 375 children annually. Sadly, this is still not enough, when on any given day, 9078 women and girls in Canada experience homelessness.

How has it changed since?

As our community’s needs grew, so did our programs. Since I started at Atira, our numbers have almost doubled to support 3,150 units of housing across the Lower Mainland. Because we create our programs in response to gaps in the service continuum, we’ve expanded to include specific outreach teams and housing programs for marginalized groups, residential buildings in communities where there was previously no accessible housing, cultural support services for our Indigenous community members, and collaborations with other nonprofit organizations across Canada.

What more needs to be done?

Atira recently hosted our seventh annual Pan-Canadian Voice for Women’s Housing (PCVWH) Symposium. This annual symposium brings together government representatives, social housing and nonprofit leadership, and housing advocates to make women’s and gender-diverse housing a priority on a local, regional, and national level.

The 2023 PCVWH conference sparked the Call to Action, a list of 15 action items and necessary government commitments needed to properly address the gendered housing crisis in Canada. These action items include targeted investments in housing, scaling solutions that correspond with the level of community need, and taking meaningful steps toward supporting the underserved and marginalized populations of women, 2SLGD people, and children. This work needs to be implemented at a government level, so I encourage readers to reach out to their local MLA office to advocate for these calls to action.

How can our readers help?

In addition to advocating for safe and accessible housing on a community level, we always welcome donations. You can visit our donations page, Donate Funds – Atira Women’s Society which includes links to donate money, or you can get in touch with us via donations@atira.bc.ca to purchase or donate specific items.

Do you have any events coming up?

In November 2024, we’re hosting a gala fundraiser for our programs, Aoki Ross and the Nest Shelter. Aoki Ross is the only trans-specific housing program in Western Canada, and the Nest Shelter is the only trans-specific weather response shelter in North America. Because gender-diverse people are so overrepresented in our homeless population, Aoki Ross is completely full and has a long waitlist. During the cold snap this winter, The Nest saw as many as 400 drop-ins per day. We are always in need of funding and community support for both programs to provide the best amount of care possible. The gala will be a fantastic night of entertainment, comedy, a silent auction, and a celebration of trans excellence. Tickets go on sale on June 22, 2024. Here is the link to the event page with details of the sponsorship package: Events – Atira Women’s Society

Where can we follow you?

Website | InstagramLinkedIn | TikTokYoutube

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

I would like to take the time to highlight the efforts of our local YWCA Vancouver, who work to connect women, girls, and gender-diverse people with the support and advocacy they need to thrive.

 

About Emilea Semancik 135 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to work as a freelance writer and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. Taking influence from journalism culture surrounding the great and late Anthony Bourdain, she is a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of books. You can find her food blog on Instagram: