Last night Amanda and I went out for our second time doing outreach in
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
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.
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.
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
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 –
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
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 , 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
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
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.