Cyndee Clay, executive director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, details how the group is aiding people to live healthier lives
What is the mission of the organization?
For the past 20 years, we have worked to help people who are on the street to live healthy, safe, and self-determined lives.
We work primarily with people in what we call the street economy. That is individuals who are engaged in the sex trade, but also people who are involved in drug use in the DC area – primarily those who are on the streets.
Our goal is to help improve their lives, step by step. We utilize a harm reduction model, which basically acknowledges that people are engaged in behaviors we might find risky or distasteful. But the real way to address the issues and the risks involved is to take a non-judgmental and client-centered approach, both through social services and advocacy, to help address the issues communities have with those types of issues.
What kind of impact have you seen?
We have helped more than 500 people get off the streets and hundreds get away from abusive situations that were forcing them to stay on the streets.
In the past three years, we have also helped people transition away from being homeless and HIV positive into securing housing.
With the new Center for Health and Achievement that will open at the end of this month, we will possess most of the services someone would need to go from being potentially on the streets due to circumstance, economics, or coercion, to helping them be self-sufficient, healthy, and have access to the resources they need to reach their goals.
How does your outreach program work?
Our initiative, which has been active pretty much every weekend since 1993, is an internationally recognized best practice model for working with people on the streets –
especially sex workers and people in the drug trade.
It is renowned because we bring our services to them and we bring it to these people at times that are both convenient and also when they are actively in need of services.
Most of our clients are not on any social media platforms, but we are getting to the point where most of them will have devices such as smartphones.
As a result, we are branching out to social more and more, but primarily it’s our outreach program and word of mouth. We get a lot of clients who refer other people and that’s probably the second-biggest way people find us.