Bolton Hill, Mount Royal residents learn about helping prostitutes

Meeting highlights program to assist women in changing their lives

April 23, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Tired of women engaging in sex for drugs or money in the alleys of Bolton Hill and Mount Royal, area residents met last night to learn about a unique program that teams police, public defenders, prosecutors and social workers to help prostitutes change their lives.

"In our neighborhood, like many others in Baltimore, there is a significant problem with prostitutes," said David Rocah, vice president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association. "While I feel for these women ... that doesn't mean that I think it is OK for them to do this to our neighborhood."

The program, called YANA HOPE, was created a year ago by social workers who deal exclusively with women engaged in prostitution. A pilot project in South Baltimore has helped 40 women obtain mental health and drug counseling, and job training, said Sid Ford, executive director of You Are Never Alone, the state's only prostitution outreach project.

"It's been truly amazing to watch what has happened," said Tracy Hood, YANA HOPE supervisor. HOPE stands for Helping Oppressed People Engage.

The YANA HOPE team met with about a dozen residents at Memorial Episcopal Church last night. At the start, the residents were encouraged to describe encounters with the prostitutes.

Estelle Turner, 88, who lives in the 1700 block of Eutaw Place, said that she used to talk to the women but that she doesn't now.

"You have to be careful," she said, "even if you approach people nicely."

YANA staff members cautioned residents about getting too close to the women. They warned that many women who engage in prostitution are armed.

"We do make a lot of arrests in that corridor," said Maj. John Skinner, commanding officer of the Central District, which includes Bolton Hill and Mount Royal. "But there's no way we can solve this problem with arrests."

A vast majority of women who are arrested for soliciting sex in the city suffer from drug addictions and mental health problems, Skinner said, and those who are jailed rarely get the help they need to leave their lives on the street.

The YANA program offers an alternative to jail for nonviolent offenders and the kind of intensive emotional help that the women need, Skinner said.

"This is the first program of its kind in the nation," Ford said, adding that most prostitution programs are focused on law enforcement, not the women and their medical and mental health needs. Most of the women enrolled in the YANA HOPE program in South Baltimore were referred to drug treatment programs that last six to 12 months.

Ford said that many women who visit YANA's headquarters at 2013 W. Pratt St. have been working with counselors for seven years and still need help to overcome nightmarish pasts.

If Mount Royal and Bolton Hill residents decide to participate in YANA HOPE, they will have to raise the funds to expand the program to their neighborhoods.

The program in South Baltimore has cost about $170,000, Ford said. Money to cover costs - including a full-time social worker who reviews cases - was provided by the Open Society Institute and the Abell Foundation.

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