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Security firm gives monitoring system to women’s safe house

A woman makes her way through a back alley past a parked police car in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, Dec. 18, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Opened out of necessity six years ago, the shelter in the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre remains one of Vancouver's few women-only facilities.

For the dozens of women who stay there each night, the shelter – which shares a space with a drug users' resource centre – is a sanctuary, offering safety, comfort and refuge.

It is open to many who have been turned away by other facilities, often for severe addiction or mental-health issues.

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But operating in a building not designed as a shelter meant security challenges: Staffers could not monitor the whole facility at once, for example, and men would sometimes loiter outside.

So when Vancouver-based video surveillance company Avigilon Corporation decided to launch a corporate social responsibility program, a staffer suggested the shelter.

Late last month, the company and the shelter announced the new partnership.

"They had an unmet need: They didn't have a security focus," said Keith Marett, executive vice-president of marketing, communications and product strategy for Avigilon. "It quickly dawned on us that this is where we wanted to start our program, with them."

The company donated five high-definition cameras and a computer with software – about $10,000 worth of equipment. Replacing an older analog system meant staff members can now see, in detail, who is in and around the facility, or if medical emergencies are happening. Staff can also review footage.

It brings "a certain amount of comfort" and an increased sense of security, said Fiona York, fund development co-ordinator at the DEWC.

"It's also a deterrent, as well, just knowing that it is there," she said, adding that the surveillance is for security only – not to police or monitor clients.

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Globally, Avigilon is aiming to donate in a similar fashion once per quarter.

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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