A new shelter for women looking to leave prostitution in Quebec City says it's struggling to find the qualified staff needed to operate its new facilities.
The Maison de Marthe has long operated as a centre supporting sex workers but planned to start welcoming them 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a shelter on Jan. 17.
"Our backs are to the wall a little bit," said general manager Ginette Massé, "our usual recruitment methods haven't been as fruitful as usual."
Massé says she has received a few applications but is having a hard time finding qualified workers willing to work the night shift.
Those who have applied are being put through a strict selection process. If they're hired, they have to complete a training program run by employees at the centre before they can start work.
"We're looking for people trained in special education, social work, policing or nursing," said communications agent Catherine Gauthier, adding that criminology, psychology and sexology degree holders are welcome to apply.
Massé says the new shelter will have six full-time beds for women who are trying to leave sex work behind, offering them a safe place to stay and tools to help them get back on their feet.
"When they want to change their life [away from sex work], they find themselves in poverty," Massé explained. "You have to think about that too."
Women will be able to stay for up to six months. During that time, the shelter will work with them to create an action plan for everything from the return to work to housing, she said.
They'll also have access to workshops, support programs and other resources the centre already offers.
Massé says during the last two years, the need for a Quebec City shelter became clearer than ever.
While the Maison de Marthe operates an emergency fund for food and hygiene products, for the first time, they were also fielding requests to help women pay their rent.
When new public health measures came into effect, the organization continued to operate its anonymous phone line but had to suspend its workshops and events, where women could meet up with others who understood the reality of sex work.
Massé says the isolation created by COVID-19 also played a role in increasing demand for their services.
"They are already isolated," she said. "They've often cut ties with their families. So during the pandemic, it was even worse."
Massé said she wants to avoid giving anyone false hope by setting a new opening date, but she hopes the new shelter will be up and running sometime next month.