In the mid 80s, a number of women living and working in the Downtown Eastside formed a working group because they had identified two significant needs for women in the area. The women in the Downtown Eastside needed a safe place to go and a safe place to live. The group divided its attentions on each large project: one to the development of the Women’s Centre and one towards housing. The group faced a challenge in that the City of Vancouver and the Province (through the housing program) were not fully informed about the number of women and children living in the area or their circumstances.
The death of Mavis Hippolyte in 1984 was the catalyst for the formation of the Mavis McMullen Housing Society. Living and working in a storefront, Mavis barricaded herself in her storefront for safety at night. Despite friends’ requests to the police for help, the police did not break into the storefront until it was too late. She had fallen ill, had no phone and was too weak to get herself out and consequently died. Helen McMullen was a sociologist at UBC researching women living in impoverished communities and was the first president of the Society.
The Mavis McMullen Housing Society was incorporated in 1987. The circumstances of Mavis Hippolyte’s death formed the philosophy of our Society: to provide safe housing with a sense of community through mutual support. This commitment started at the very beginning of the development of our first building. Some of the women who first lived at Mavis McMullen Place were part of the consultation process for the physical development of the building.
Our first building, Mavis McMullen Place, opened its doors in 1988 with 34 suites providing housing for 55 tenants. The tenants were comprised of 75% elder women and 25% single mothers.
Our second building, Haley Place opened in December 1995 with its focus being more on single mothers. Our facilities provide women with the opportunity to move out of the Downtown Eastside. For some of this population, Haley Place acts as second stage housing. It is outside the Downtown Eastside, but close enough so tenants can access the resources they need. In Haley Place, the tenants comprise a smaller percentage of elder women, a large percentage of single mothers as well as some multi-generational matriarchal families. Located in East Vancouver, Haley Place has 39 suites.