Welcoming Spaces

“I’m a 16-year survivor of HIV. I’m still here and I thought I wasn’t going to be. Resources and people who understand you can make a big difference.”
— participant at an ACT focus group, March 2011

Creating a space that feels welcoming and safe for clients and visitors is a priority for service providers. Words that people use to describe welcoming service providers include non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing, attentive, caring, friendly, gender inclusive and respectful. These qualities are even more important when it comes to a space to talk about sexual health. It can be hard to open up about intimate needs and concerns. Someplace comfortable helps put women at ease.

Welcoming spaces help connect people. They are where women can go for advice about getting work, ideas for better housing, childcare information or health care and wellness tips. A welcoming space is also the warm feeling of a community or group making sure that someone is included, accepted, heard and cared about.

Most important, the ideal environment can soften – even erase – feelings of being alone, and provide meaningful, concrete support. A place to gain strength. This is achieved through the look, feel and function of a welcoming space. It is reached through an organization’s people and approach.

A welcoming space is created by you and other service providers.

Elements to consider when developing a supportive environment

  • how to create a non-judgmental and confidential service
  • have resources that are representative of the demographics being served
  • include resources for topics beyond the services that your agency provides, which will help women feel more comfortable to bring up these subjects
  • develop programs, services, and supports that are flexible and able to adjust to different needs
  • include social planning that encourages the participation of women who are often marginalized or silenced
  • provide full accessibility
  • that meets or improves on current standards
  • have language options for women
  • an emphasis on safety and security
  • an available and accessible supply of condoms
  • an environment promoting respect for women’s choices
  • create a child friendly space
  • training and policy for staff and volunteers that develops and improves strengths-based skills

Simple ways to create a welcoming space for women you serve

  • someone saying hello when people come into a building or room
  • provide services in multiple languages
  • increase the opportunities for peer support
  • a person answering the phone instead of using voicemail
  • a clean and organized space
  • promote and maintain scent-free events and areas
  • decorate in a way that makes people feel comfortable and safe
  • emphasize that support is available, that questions are encouraged, and that help is a wonderful four-letter word we can offer each other

More from Shared Health Exchange

HEALTH PROMOTION: Strengths-Based Approaches

While information about HIV might be familiar to some service providers, it might be very new for others. Take some time to examine your own beliefs and biases around sexual-health behaviour, practices and the topic of HIV. Support your coworkers if they are in need of more information – supportive environments take time and collective effort to build!

Please contact us! We’re here to support you and your clients.

Women and HIV/AIDS Initiative at ACT

Email: she@actoronto.org
Phone: 416-340-2437 x. 453