A program to help sex workers in Newfoundland and Labrador who want to get out of the business is operating at capacity, with 15 clients, according to support workers.

The Blue Door Program, which began in St. John's in May, reached its limit on Monday according to its director, Cheryl Coleman.

"Most people are finding out about the program at this point through word of mouth," Coleman said.

"Originally we started doing a lot of outreach with our partner organizations, and I guess word started spreading really fast. Once we started getting some referrals, they just started pouring in and people started calling us themselves."

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Sex trade workers are on the street, in houses and online, according to a program that helps them leave the business. ((CBC))

Coleman spoke Thursday as the Blue Door Program accepted $2.3 million dollars in support from the federal government's National Crime Prevention Strategy.

"Even though we are at capacity, we won't turn people away if they're coming to us for help," she said.

"If we have someone who just needs help finding housing or whatever it is, we'll try and fit that into our work day." 

Coleman said there is a limit on the number of clients who can be accepted into the program because there are only two support co-ordinators.

"Our team is pretty small, and we want to be able to do real good quality work with people. It's a bit of a holistic program, so we want to be able to meet their needs and we'll do a good job of that."

Survival sex, addiction and more

Clients have complex needs, including alcohol and drug abuse, Coleman said.

"Because when people have experienced significant trauma, we need to find a way to cope with the pain and to get by day to day."

What she called "survival sex" is also happening.

"Survival sex is something that they've been doing to get by. Sometimes that means having sex for a place to live or a place to stay for the night, or for food or for other basic necessities."

Melendy Muise

Melendy Muise is a support worker and chair of the Coalition against the Sexual Exploitation of Youth. (Cal Tobin./CBC)

The Blue Door Program is operated by the community group Thrive and the Coalition against the Sexual Exploitation of Youth (CASEY).

"We lend a voice to things that people don't know about," said Melendy Muise, a support worker with CASEY who said Newfoundland and Labrador's sex trade operates at street level, in houses and online.

"I come to the table with lived experience, so I think that really helps in how we put on a different lens on how we are doing this work."

Prevention is key to creating safer communities, said Nick Whalen, Member of Parliament for St. John's East. He said the federal money is meant to help fund counselling, temporary accommodation and help getting another job.


 

With files from Janelle Kelly