Women in the street-based sex trade deserve help, not criminalization. Many have been sexually exploited as minors and are now struggling to meet basic needs like housing.
Women in the Sisters Program told us that homelessness is a primary barrier to exiting the street sex trade and that they frequently “take dates” or stay in drug houses to avoid sleeping on the streets. Women in the street-based sex trade are at high risk for sexual violence, exploitation and homicide. Being homeless makes them even more vulnerable to violence.
Women in the Sisters Program tell us that homelessness is a primary barrier to exiting the sex trade. With assistance from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Benedict Center conducted a survey and found that 50% of respondents were either literally homeless, precariously housed, or at imminent risk of literal homelessness.
Unfortunately, housing resources for women with no income, criminal and eviction records, and many times with substance use disorders are severely limited at best. The stigma of working in the street-based sex trade further prevents women from accessing those resources.
Housing First: All Human Beings Need a Safe Place to Live
The Benedict Center is leading community efforts to increase access to safe, affordable housing for women in the street-based sex trade. We formed strategic partnerships in the housing field to advance this effort.
In partnership with IMPACT 211, Milwaukee’s Continuum of Care, the AHWE at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee County Housing Division, the Benedict Center has increased awareness of the unmet housing needs of this vulnerable population. But this is just the beginning.
A first step to receiving housing services is to take Milwaukee’s Coordinated Entry assessment. One systemic change is that women can now take the housing assessment at the Sisters Program, which has more access to women in the street sex trade than our housing partners.
Now that the Benedict Center is a formal access point to Milwaukee’s Coordinated Entry housing system, more homeless women in the sex trade have begun the process to obtain housing. As of March 2021, over 70 women at the Sisters Program received housing navigation services.
These joint efforts are illuminating our next steps to ensure save housing for this specific needs population.