Since 2006, the Off the Streets
program offered through Cincinnati Union Bethel
has assisted women recovering from a life of prostitution and substance abuse by helping them develop the life skills and self-esteem they need to turn their lives around.
Off the Streets connects women to community resources that assist them with substance abuse and mental health issues, and pairs them with facilitators who have been involved with prostitution themselves. This award-winning model has helped hundreds of women find hope and empowerment by working with others who have “been there” and who understand the difficult path to recovery.
“Our program moves these women toward safety, recovery and re-integration into the community,” says Brittany Ballard, development director at Cincinnati Union Bethel. “Many times the women come to us with only the clothes on their backs. Right away we provide them with shelter, food, clothing – and a non-judgmental environment.”
Approximately 76 percent of the women who enter the Off the Streets program are homeless and have no other housing option. To these women, the safe and non-judgmental environment offered by the program, combined with safe housing at the Anna Louise Inn
, can make all the difference in learning a new way of life.
Nearly half of the women who enter the program are self-referred. Approximately 36 percent are referred through the criminal justice system, and 15 percent by other community programs. The program’s intake /outtake coordinator actually hits the streets herself – to find women living lives of prostitution who are open to getting help.
Since its launch, success rates are remarkable. According to program statistics, of 226 women who were engaged in the program for 30 days or longer, 89 percent reported no longer being involved in prostitution. In addition, 99 percent reported a decrease in substance abuse while 81 percent reported no longer using at all.
Off the Streets has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Ohio Association of Non-Profit Organizations Excellence Award (2006), the Community Police Partnering Center CPOP Award (2007) the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce Non-profit of the Year Award (2008) and Honorable Mention Winner of the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award (2008). Soon it will launch a new facet of programming that leads program graduates even further along the road to healthy and productive lives.
Beginning Oct. 27, Off the Streets will host a brand new program called “Women Leading Healthy Change,” designed, among other things, to foster communication and understanding between health professionals and women involved, or formerly involved, in prostitution. Rachel Robitz, a medical student at University of Cincinnati, is the leader behind this new 10-week program. A trained dancer, Robitz became acquainted with Off the Streets in medical school when she elected to volunteer at the site as a ballet teacher. “Ballet helps these women to see their bodies differently – to re-learn their bodies in a more positive light,” Robitz says. From those initial interactions, she “fell in love” with the program and the positive things it was doing for these women.
Women Leading Healthy Change will be co-led by a medical student and a graduate of the Off the Streets program. It brings together former prostitutes and healthcare professionals to get them talking – and understanding – one another. The program also seeks to interest women in affecting their own communities as far as public health is concerned, by using what they’ve learned to help others. “There is definitely a leadership and empowerment component,” Robitz says.
“Many times these women avoid seeing a doctor out of fear and misunderstanding,” Ballard says. “This new program is designed to reduce the stigma of prostitution among healthcare professionals, and educate the women on the importance of healthcare.”
Once the 10-week program is over, the women can apply for a scholarship set up through Cincinnati State to receive more training and possibly identify new career paths. “Women Leading Healthy Change adds validity to the voices of these women, and empowers them through a positive experience in leadership,” Robitz says.
• Help fund a scholarship through Cincinnati State. Contact the Women Leading Healthy Change program for details
. Off the Streets relies on donations to serve women in need. Can’t donate financially? Personal care items and clothing are needed as well.
• Volunteer. Contact Kari Kester at 513-768-6930.
• Write a letter. Be supportive of women in the program by writing them a note of encouragement.
By Deidra Wiley Necco