Credit: The Salvation Army

Kathy McGarrigle (left) and Sabine Kempe (right), co-chairs of the Women’s Giving Circle Campaign.

The Women’s Giving Circle—a campaign to fund a game-changing women’s addiction treatment program in British Columbia

Kathy McGarrigle and Sabine Kempe are on a mission. Leveraging their reach as dedicated community members, accomplished professionals and committed volunteers, the pair is spearheading the Women's Giving Circle€”a campaign to fund an addiction treatment program exclusively for women.

The program includes 18 treatment beds, 4 transitional units, and access to a supportive recovery network and a gamut of recovery services that will set women up for success transitioning back into society.

The program is just one part of a redevelopment of The Salvation Army's Vancouver Harbour Light building€”a collection of four adjacent buildings that date back to the 1920s that has housed the organization's outreach efforts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) for the past 60 years. Despite being a beacon of hope for individuals across the province, the building has reached the end of its operational life, prompting the construction of a new facility.

€œWe have been contributing to the well-being of the community for over six decades, and this building will allow us to do that for another six,€ says Mike Leland, campaign director. €œWith a surging opioid crisis and a record number of homeless in our province, this project is a must.€

Located at 130 E. Cordova St., the nine-storey, 144,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility will allow program consolidation, ensure adequate and appropriate space, and provide practical and compassionate support to the community's most vulnerable. The third floor of the new building will be the women's addiction treatment program.

McGarrigle notes that The Salvation Army is the largest provider of direct social services outside of the government in BC. €œThey are very focused on the disenfranchised members of society, and they provide programming that most people don't even know about€”support for the homeless, addicted, survival sex workers, human trafficking, domestic abuse, and safe shelter for men, women, children and seniors,€ she says. €œThey are passionate about those issues, and they quietly go about doing extremely difficult work to bring hope to those people.€

The women's addiction program will be transformational in BC because it will bridge the gap in the community when it comes to women struggling with mental health and addiction. Forty percent of the DTES population is made up of women, and their challenges are different from those experienced by men. Trauma, violence, exploitation, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, survival sex work, complex family structure issues, and responsibility for children create more complex barriers for women and require specialized support.

€œBesides this intersection of vulnerabilities, these women don't have the financial resources to access treatment, and that is why they need the community's support,€ McGarrigle says. €œPeople need to understand that addiction knows no boundaries and it does not discriminate.€

Even in the best circumstances, the wait for women to access treatment can be three to four months, compared with two to three weeks for men. €œHaving a facility that offers the best and latest programing and resources will give women their best chance to access safe and immediate support,€ Kempe says. €œIt will give them the network they need to be successful. That is what makes it so realistic and sets the program up for success.€

At The Salvation Army, many employees and volunteers are individuals who have experienced similar struggles and circumstances, and this creates a strong network for mentorship. €œWomen supporting women is not a new concept, but it continues to evolve,€ Kempe says. €œI have seen value in coaching and mentoring€”it gives a person a sense of security and confidence. There is a particular element of camaraderie when women support women, from business and career standpoints.€

McGarrigle says from a corporate perspective, women taking a step up in their careers tends to refer to professional advancement, but where women in business might be eager to help one another advance professionally, there is help needed on broader scale.

€œAddiction, abuse, sex trafficking€”these are not sexy topics for corporations to talk about, but it is happening all over,€ she says. €œThe women facing these issues don't have a voice. Any voice we can give, anything we can do to shine the spotlight on these issues can change lives.€

€œNavigating an addiction is hard enough without the added barriers women experience,€ Kempe says. €œImagine doing that and not having the appropriate resources, not knowing where to go or what questions to ask. That is where my passion for this project came from. It is going to make such a difference for so many people. They will be welcomed with open arms and provided resources to fit their needs.€

For more information or to get involved with the project contact Karenina Trinidad at