Who are London's street-level sex workers?
Street Level Women at Risk program has helped 28 women get housing in its first year
A just-released report into the first year of a program that aims to get street-level sex workers into permanent homes offers a rare glimpse into the lives of some of the city's most vulnerable residents.
After helping women for a year, the city-funded Street Level Women at Risk program released its evaluation report earlier this week, detailing the lives of the 28 women who were helped between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017.
What is street level sex work?
Street level sex work is the trading of sex for basic needs such as a place to stay, food or clothing.
Who is involved in street level sex work?
Women in street level sex work are socially isolated, experience high rates of violence, have problems with addiction and trauma, mental and physical health problems.
London police say there are 150 street-level sex workers in the city at any given time.
Who are the women in the program?
The 28 women helped by the Street Level Women at Risk were referred by London police.
- Two-thirds are over 30, and three quarters said their highest level of education was elementary school
- 92 per cent have children and none had custody of their children
- 86 per cent had been homeless for more than six months, which is considered chronic homelessness
- 95 per cent used substances
- The most commonly-used substances were meth, opioids, alcohol, pot and cocaine — in that order
- 81 per cent had been diagnosed with a mental health problem
Did it work?
The 28 women involved in the program work with a housing stability officer to get a permanent place to live. That's the main goal. They work with supports from 25 different agencies and services which provide them with help 24-7.
- Achieving child custody, getting sober, getting housing and improving family relationships were among the top 10 goals of the women
- All of the women secured permanent housing, almost half within 30 days
- 26 of the women have remained housed. One moved out and went to jail, and the other is in transitional housing
- 83 per cent continued their involvement in sex work
- 85 per cent had no new criminal charges laid
- 13 per cent reported increased access to their children, and 7 per cent reported increased contact with their children, for example seeing their children more often
- 76 per cent reconnected with family members and 67 per cent developed new friendships
- A third of the women started accessing substance use treatment
The program will continue working with the women beyond the first year, and six new women are also enrolled.
"These women have been living in poverty, in absolute homelessness, with mental health and physical health problems, with trauma, they're experiencing violence and abuse on a regular basis," said Cathy Nolan, the Street Level Women at Risk program director.
"On the flip side, these are incredibly resilient, strong, intelligent women who are hopeful about making a change in their life and partnering with us to work towards those changes."