On September 25, 2016, Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - more commonly known as William and Kate - entered Sheway with a relatively small entourage led by Sheway Manager Patti Zettel. “The decision to come to the Downtown Eastside was a profound one” says Patti. “The decision to visit a woman’s organization on the Downtown Eastside was even more profound. It’s so important that the women’s stories of resiliency be told, that their voices be heard, and that their lives matter. By having the Duke and Duchess here, we have achieved that.”
William and Kate received a First Nations ceremonial welcome, and were presented with teddy bears with custom-made clothing featuring the Sheway logo. They toured Sheway and heard the stories of women overcoming addiction. Four women sat down to tea with the royals. Their stories are below.
“We got to be ourselves and speak our minds,” said Karen. Karen told Kate and William about her struggle with addiction, how she was broken and gave up on herself. “Sheway was there for me when I wasn’t there for myself. They gave me food, clothing, but most importantly, they gave me love.” Karen encouraged women struggling with addiction issues to come forward to seek help.
“They seemed interested in hearing about our experiences, and our experiences with our children. I spoke to the harm reduction piece. My road to recovery started with harm reduction,” says Allison. What helped Allison most, was being related to as a mother first and an addict second. She told the Royal Couple that the staff of Sheway never judged her, which allowed her to then speak the truth and get the services she needed to help herself and her two children.
“They were really involved – I appreciated that. They asked me about myself and how long I had been using the services of Sheway. I told them Sheway gave me the courage to deal with a lot of issues when I didn’t know how to, or where to go to ask for help. Sheway gave me the chance to be able to raise two of my children,” said Jennifer. As for what it was like meeting Kate, Jennifer said, “She was very humble and I really appreciated that, she made me feel like a normal human being.”
Amanda explained there are no words to describe how she felt upon meeting the Duke and Duchess. “I spoke about being 10 months sober…about needing just one person to believe in me.” Amanda presented Kate Middleton with an eagle feather, a sign of honour and respect.
Sheway was formed 23 years ago to meet the needs of the marginalized pregnant and parenting women who lived in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. These women were not accessing health care and social services and were often falling through the cracks in our systems.
Sheway was modeled on the Glasgow Women's Reproductive Health Service Unit for women with major social problems, a program developed by Dr. Mary Hepburn. This program was officially opened in 1990 by Princess Diana. The official Royal photograph below (kindly supplied by Dr. Mary Hepburn) is of Princess Diana at the official opening:
Sheway provides health and social service supports to pregnant women and mothers who are dealing with drug and alcohol issues. It’s operated by Vancouver Coastal Health in partnership with the BC Government, Vancouver Native Health Society and the YWCA of Vancouver.