“It’s not like that HBO special, but there are still some women out here none-the-less.” That’s what one Bronx Community Solutions case manager said while on a street outreach with the NYPD’s 41st precinct in the Hunts Point area. Read more....
It’s not the first outreach Bronx Community Solutions has done. This is the third and so far we’ve been able to engage approximately thirty individuals. Most of these women have clear substance abuse and/or medical issues, most are past adolescence and almost all of them have been arrested several times.
“What do you plan on doing with these girls?” That’s the question that was asked of us by one of the night-shift lieutenants. The reality is this initial engagement often may not result into any major life altering change, and none of the women were ready to voluntarily enter into services like hospital-based detox.
One woman we spoke with did state that she needed help getting off the street. After being clean from drugs for a year, she had relapsed about a month ago. She didn't decide to engage in services from us on the spot, but after she was arrested by officers from the 41st precinct the next day, her case was flagged for assessment by Bronx Community Solutions. When she met with our social workers at the courthouse, she was able to get into detox and rehab and she's successfully completing her treatment at the time of this writing.
Women engaged in prostitution are an extremely challenging population with which to work. Successfully helping a woman to get out of the life usually requires an extensive, resource intensive intervention, including obtaining housing and employment. However, as long as women stay on the street, they will continue to risk arrest and jail. Working as social workers in the court is a difficult challenge and we constantly go back and forth between different roles – at one time an advocate and a counselor, at another time an enforcer of court orders and in the role of a kind of probation officer.
It’s a long and difficult road. Mentoring programs like GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Services), one program with which we maintain a strong partnership, know that women in their program will often continue to work on the street until they’re ready (financially, logistically, and emotionally) to get out. That's why GEMS starts by building a social support structure before a woman is completely ready to leave the life.
As challenging as it is for courts to meaningfully address the crime of prostitution, it's important for courts to give serious attention to these cases. In communities like Hunts Point residents will tell you that they have a wonderful community, with new parks, historic neighborhoods, and one of the world's largest wholesale food markets, and they're dismayed that the words Hunts Point are only associated with one thing in many people's minds - prostitution. When residents see a notorious local prostitute get arrested and then go back out on the street the very next day, no explanation will reduce their frustration and lack of faith in the courts.