Most of us take for granted the opportunity to have a fun night out, share a laugh with our friends or even just hang out in our pyjamas at home.

But for many marginalized women working in the sex industry, this isn’t their reality. What many of us think of as “regular life” feels like some fantasy vacation for women working on the street just to survive. This is why The Salvation Army in Winnipeg created SNOW Night.

A Caring City
“SNOW stands for Safe Night Off Winnipeg Streets,” declares Dianna Bussey, director of The Salvation Army’s correctional and justice services in Winnipeg. “The idea is to provide a special night, free from violence and exploitation, for those working in the sex industry.”

Now entering its 10th year, SNOW Night typically occurs in the third week of February. “What better time to have people indoors than on the coldest night of the year,” she says.

Preparations for SNOW Night begin in the summer. “At that first meeting, we decide on a theme,” says Sada Fenton, a community service worker at The Salvation Army. “We then meet every week, collecting volunteers and donations as we go.”

Volunteers are never a problem.

“This year, we had 255,” says Sada, “and twice as many applicants. SNOW Night hinges on the remarkable generosity and support of the community. Winnipeg really cares.”

A Safe Place
This year’s theme was the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Army’s Weetamah church was appropriately decorated with hundreds of stars hanging from the ceiling.

Once the women entered and registered, they chose new slippers and undergarments. They could then participate in various activities throughout the evening, such as getting their nails done, bingo and even a photo booth. “We also had craft tables where the women could bead or make and paint picture frames for their photos,” says Sada.

“To encourage the women to stay all night, we had draws every hour where prizes such as makeup and clothes were offered,” says Dianna.

At 11 o’clock, everybody received a brand-new comforter and pillow. At that point, the evening transformed into one giant sleepover.

“The women didn’t have to go to sleep,” says Dianna. “We had movies playing all night long and they could do crafts all night if they wanted. Food continued to be served in the cafeteria all the way until breakfast.” This year, 124 participants showed up—a record—with 80 staying all night.

“Our doors open at 7 p.m. and we try to have everyone stay until 8 a.m,” Dianna says. “We have buses take people as close to home as possible.

“We don’t have an agenda,” she says of the event. “Women can come in and be involved at whatever level they want. But many are tired, hungry and just want to be safe. We’ll take that.

“The whole night is for the women—it’s for them to be themselves. I guess if we have any agenda, it’s that!”

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