Thursday, April 19, 2007

Surrey Girlz Journals

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Last night Amanda and I went out for our second time doing outreach in Surrey. This time, Dawn came along to join us.

There is a definite need for Surrey sex workers to have us there, that is obvious from their comments such as “Thank you so much!” and “You are angels” and “What a lucky night for me!”

Some of the items that the women are saying they could use are things like food, gloves and scarves, jackets, shoes. We offer them condoms, lubes, juice boxes, bottles of water, chocolates, suckers, and hot chocolate, and the clothes we pilfer from our own closets.

We’ve met twelve women in all so far – and met some twice (last weekend and this). We’ve also spoken to them about the consultations for the harm reduction conference and there is mixed comments about whether we should have a focus group or individual interviews. They seem very willing and interested in taking part, not simply for the thirty dollars and the nutrition but also to share their stories and have someone care to listen. I also get the feeling that there is a desire among many of the women to connect with each other. I think this would be a good opportunity to do some community building among them. It was amazing this effect had on the women of Prince George and the isolation that many of the Surrey women are experiencing due to the spread out geography of the city and also due to red zoning from the police could be lessened if they see and recognize each other as each having her own herstory that is valid and intermixed with the others and equally important to tell.

Speaking of the police, we also spoke last night to a beat cop who seemed quite comfortable with what we are doing and even gave us his card and suggested we get in contact with vice. We already plan to do so anyway and will hopefully convince the department to put their beat cops through some sensitivity training. The women have expressed deep concern about the harassment they’ve received from police. Almost all of them have court dates and have been charged several times from what we’re hearing. We would like to help these women find good representation and be supported and advocated for during court sessions. They seem relieved that someone might be willing to help them.

Doing outreach feels like another piece of the puzzle fitting together for me in my life. I was meant to do this kind of work. The only hard part is seeing women freezing cold, shivering outside. Some women are distrustful of us. Thankfully we are sensitive enough to their needs (thanks to Amanda) that we are attempting to have good relations with their pimps so they will not be reprimanded or forbidden to speak with us. We are also planning to start collecting bad date information to print up and pass out to them.

It is my sincere hope that as we go through this process we become financially sufficient to meet the most basic needs of the women and eventually create a drop-in place for them to come to day or night, regardless of their reasons for being there. There is such a need for it in Surrey. I am sad that it has taken so long for something to be done in this city but I am thrilled to be a part of the change we are already seeing, just by the simple gratitude of our care and concern for their lives and their comfort.

It makes me sick that anyone, but especially these amazing, vibrant, beautiful, gutsy, down-to-earth women, would be made to feel like no one cares about them and that their lives being in danger seems not to present itself as a sickening condition in the minds of the people who affect their lives the most. The police, the city, the courts, and the johns need to know that these women are loves and cared for and that their existence is meaningful – we won’t take anything less from them and until we have achieved this, I will not rest. Amanda and I don’t want to miss a single woman.

There’s a good chance I will be doing outreach for the rest of my life. If only for the selfish benefit of meeting these amazing women and hearing their stories and letting them know that I (and so many others) really do fucking care.

October 13, 2006

Last night we held our first Thursday night drop-in, so many of the women didn’t know we would be open but recognized us when we arrived. About five or six women attended ranging in age from 17 to mid-fifties, I’d say.

Our newest Surrey Girl – Re, was amazing. She cleaned the kitchen spotless, and started on the walls. Every surface was wiped with disinfectant, and even some furniture was rearranged. We are giving her an honorarium each week to perform support during drop-in and keep things running smoothly in honour of our mandate to provide employment opportunities for sex workers based on their capacity.

A year from now, Re and Karen might be running the drop-in together!

It was such a pleasure sitting around chatting and bonding with these women. One of the young members there with her mother said, “She’s my mom, so when I look at her I don’t see a drug addict – I see my mom.”

I hadn’t asked her anything to elicit that shared moment. I think she just felt comfortable enough to say it, and that experience in itself makes me feel this drop-in is successful. I had a chance to share with her about my own relationships that mirror hers in a lot of respects.

A dancer friend of mine had donated a load of beautiful lingerie and dressy clothes and the girl’s mom was trying some of it on. It felt like a typical girl’s get together with food, clothes, conversation, and giggles. It was a welcome respite from the world of responsibilities for me as a mom balancing work and home.

I hope the drop-in feels like that for our members too.

November 20, 2006

Wow. I just can’t believe how much negative energy is sent our way when we’re trying so hard to do something good. It seems like ever since we got some funding, people are suspicious of us. The weird thing is that if anyone were to come to the drop-in they would clearly see how the money is being spent and no one would dare to suggest underhandedness. But I guess because we’re former sex industry workers, we already aren’t trusted. First the hassle with getting the funds released to us after our grant was approved made me feel like I was under a microscope – which would be understandable if we just crawled out of the woodwork and asked for some money. But we have many reputable witnesses from the community of Surrey who have seen what we’ve accomplished on a voluntary basis. Perhaps it’s just that no one thinks it’s worth paying for – what we do. It’s like people can revere us for our volunteer efforts, but if we are getting paid part time wages for unlimited expense of energy, hours, and passion, then we are low and unworthy or something. And that was just when we were trying to get the funds released! Then, after the funds were finally released to us, a woman from another organization that we thought we were allied with made slanderous comments about how we are managing the money. It’s like a kick in the gut when someone does something like that. She obviously didn’t realize it would get back to us and was said to make us look bad or something. But we have been very diligent with the funds. We keep track of every receipt, every invoice, and every honorarium we pay out. Our paycheques were determined and approved in the proposal. Nothing has changed. When we sent a letter confronting this woman via email about her false accusations, she didn’t even bother to respond. What an insult! You put your heart and soul into something and stick your neck out for others, and you get attacked and dragged down for your efforts. I wonder how other people have done it and keep doing it in the face of constant adversity. It’s already hard to do this work, to see on a daily basis the harm that is inflicted on our women by our society. The harms that are inflicted by women on our women are even worse. It’s hard to get paid part-time wages for fulltime work on top of being a mom with two kids and working other contracts and keeping the house clean. It’s not like Surrey Girlz lasts two days a week when the kids are in school and daycare. The calls are coming in all week. Especially since the article in the Now came out. People have donations. People want us to pick up their donations. Mother’s are calling us because their daughters are in sex work and they don’t know who else to call. Sex workers are calling us to get involved in helping us provide the services or to access services. Police and other community org’s are calling us and emailing us – we have meetings, we have a website to update, we have thank you cards to fill out, and cupboards at the drop-in to stock. And SHIT – the drop-in is out of toilet paper. Details details. But this latest blow is the worst of all. Another attack about money from someone we hired to do work but the work was not fulfilled. I’m not sure I can take this over and over again. The women need us. Fuck it, the community needs us. No one else is doing what we’re doing. No one else is going to. We can’t walk away now. But how can we be expected to go through this heartache and headache each time someone has the slightest inclination to call us down? How can we be expected to continue devoting endless uncompensated hours and energy towards this important cause when people keep knocking us down? I have a family to think of. I have a family to take care of. For this pittance of an income, I open myself up to so much criticism. I know it’s not worth it sometimes. Not to me, it’s not. But it IS worth it for the women whose lives have changed because of Surrey Girlz. And so for them, I just keep going. Surrey Girlz is doing nothing but getting bigger and bigger. The roles that were overwhelming us last month now require twice as much work. We are seeing twice as many women. We are receiving more phone calls than we can manage since we got the phone. If we had the finances to do it – and someone to manage those funds on our behalf, it would be so different. We’d have a support worker just for families – the mothers who phone us because they just don’t know what to do anymore. We’d have a person who handles just the donations – keeping track of the donors, writing and sending them thank yous, answering their calls and arranging for pick ups and deliveries. We’d have more opportunities for training – for staff and the women accessing the services. We’d offer computer training, and serving it right, we’d find ways to create options for women. We’d have outreach still – all those women we can’t reach anymore because they’re standing out in the rainy streets of Surrey while we’re handing out basic necessities in the drop-in or reading stories to our kids at home in our suburban, gas-heated homes with hot water and toilets. We’d have employment programs and a fundraiser and I could spend all my time phoning around and convincing organizations to take Amanda’s SEPP training. What a different community Surrey would be if the hospital and police and other service organizations would take that training. What a compassionate community our sisters on the street could depend on. What a fucking dream. But at least we’re trying to reach it. At least we’re making the effort. We have connected with SO MANY WOMEN! And yet we’ve barely touched the surface. There are so many sex workers in Surrey who don’t even know we exist. The ones who don’t know about our drop-in or aren’t comfortable going there because it’s in a rough area of town – at least they’ll be able to find services through the Surrey Women’s Centre once that’s ready to go. Sonya has been so amazing. She is an inspiring and compassionate woman. I adore her. She is the one place we can turn to for positive energy whenever we need to. She’s even paying for the SEPP training for her staff. Thankfully we have a few people like that – and she is one of the best. But the challenge will be to let all the women out there know we’re here, and then find funding to keep us here. And my personal challenge will be to keep going even when time and again the negative energy is thrown our way, and with the wind knocked out me, I drag my heels home to my family where I need to be present and productive. I hope I don’t have to keep weighing my priorities. I hope that I don’t have to choose at some point to leave Surrey Girlz because it is affecting my family. I hope that Surrey Girlz and my family can live together in my life, and that the rewards of both can fulfill me. I hope that people will eventually just trust that we are doing the best we can with the limited resources we have and know that it is for a bigger purpose than the details involved in making it happen.


November 26, 2006

On Thursday evening I was feeling very disheartened. I didn’t feel like going to drop-in but it’s my responsibility to be there – no one else’s, and if I didn’t go, then there would be no drop-in. Offering this service isn’t like a regular job. If I am pms’ing or sick or my kids are sick (in this case all three), I cannot phone in and say I won’t be there. If I’m not there, no one will be. If I don’t go, there will be women expecting a meal they won’t receive, there will be women looking for a warm, safe place to hang out for two hours and they would show up to locked doors and no answer on the buzzer. What if someone has a bad date to report or just really needs to talk? What if this is the first time a woman is planning to come and she shows up and no one is there? I know she’ll never come back if that happens. It is a great weight on one person’s shoulders to know that people will go cold, hungry, and without support if that one person doesn’t feel well enough to arrive at drop-in.

It’s not like I have no support or anything. Amanda and I both are holding this service together (and many other services that are developing out of this one) all ourselves. I know I can turn to Amanda whenever I need to talk and especially when I’m unsure about something. Amanda has so much knowledge and compassion and expertise – Surrey Girlz couldn’t have happened without her. She is the most ethical person I’ve ever met and I’m constantly learning from her. In some ways I probably expect too much from her. I’m sure that many of the times I’ve turned to her for advice, I could have figured it out on my own. But I asked her anyways. I think I really need to stop doing that. Like me, she is overwhelmed with all her projects and responsibilities right now. And like me, she is going through some personal challenges as well.

Anyhow, on Thursday evening I was crying as I tried to lug a huge bag of donated clothes out to my car. My partner came to my rescue as he often does. But I was feeling very tired and disillusioned about my work that night. I was asking myself if the emotional expense and the instability of the income and the utter weight of responsibility that I was experiencing because of Surrey Girlz were really worth it. I was asking myself if I should go on or perhaps when our funding runs out in January and we may be volunteering all our efforts again without any income (even if it is a meager income at that), if maybe I should just quit. Let someone else take my place (if anyone is willing).

I dragged myself into the heart of Whalley and went to drop-in that night, feeling a bit apathetic. Then the universe conspired to teach me a lesson. Only two young women showed up to drop-in that night, both 16 years old. Even the women who normally come in and get paid for helping to run the drop-in never showed up.

The sweet heart that is donating the food (preparing it and everything) was a little late. She had a SHITLOAD of sandwiches – egg salad, tuna salad, and ham & cheese. But no one else came to drop-in that night. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a slow night. At the beginning we sometimes had as few as three or four women show up. But lately, that number was very rare.

At 7:30 pm, the food queen (name withheld for privacy reasons) and I packed up the sandwiches and went to do outreach and give out the sandwiches to people in the neighbourhood. We stopped by a couple of the women’s places (that we knew where they lived) and gave them some sandwiches. We pulled over to women and men alike on the street and handed out sandwiches, two at a time. There weren’t very many people out that night.

Then we saw a woman standing on the side of the road and pulled up to her. She was an angel for me. At first she looked wary, but when the words sunk in that we were offering sandwiches (and a little bit of fruit too) she fell to pieces. She just started crying and saying “thank you both so much.” It was heartbreaking. We asked if she was okay and she said yes. Then when she seemed to pull herself together a bit, she quickly added “I need to get my life together,” like she thought that’s what we wanted her to say or she needed to explain herself or something. That single incident was a slap in my self-pitying face. As we drove away, I knew that that was supposed to happen. And the universe was teaching me an important lesson about why we started Surrey Girlz, and why I need to keep doing what I’m doing. Because it’s important, it’s needed, and no one else is doing it.

And then I laugh at how I used to think that the government took care of people like this beautiful, fragile woman – that organizations like Surrey Girlz were funded by the government to ensure that people who were lost had someone to look for them and find them and show that they care for them – no strings attached. I actually thought that no one could be so uncaring as to turn their backs on people who are suffering. It’s unbelievable how idealistic and foolish my beliefs were. Hardly anyone cares, is what I’m finding out. I mean, a lot of people care! But the people who have the power and the money to make sure Surrey Girlz is here – they don’t give a shit. We’ll just have to keep writing proposals and finding ways to create projects out of our services so we can access different kinds of funding. We’re just going to have to keep begging for money and apologizing for drawing a part-time income from it because if we don’t, we’ll have to get jobs to support our families and then no one will be available to keep Surrey Girlz going. That’s just what we’re going to have to keep doing. That’s just the fucking way it is.

April 19, 2007

I am no longer a part of Surrey Girlz for many personal reasons. But none of those reasons include the women who I met during this time. I hope to work again in Surrey providing services for sex workers. As far as I understand, Surrey Girlz has fallen apart at the seams. It hurts my heart to think that these women are abandoned again by their community - and us. I cannot be a Surrey Girl for reasons I won't share publicly, but I am able and willing to support Surrey in providing service for sex workers. Just not at the expense of my own soul.

May 10, 2007

Amanda assures us (in the comments below) that Surrey Girlz is doing fine. I'm glad to hear it. I still dream about the women and do keep in touch with some of them too. I'm amazed at how hard it is still for me to let go of it all. But I'm happy to have passion and a new direction to focus my purpose.

2 comments:

Surrey Girlz said...

I am very happy to report that Surrey Girlz has not fallen apart at the seams though we have moved to a new and more exciting location. The Fireside Cafe...who also host Amanda Luvs Drag Hows (visit www.gaysurrey.ca for more info. Surrey Girlz will be there every thursday from 6-8 pm. As well we have a great new website with many resources for local, national and international sex workers such as our good client and bad client links. Please visit www.surreygirlz.org for more info. You contributions to Surrey Girlz Trina during our start up phase were greatly appreciated.

Love the Surrey Girlz

Anonymous said...

Karma works in funny ways.