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Despite progress, North Minneapolis drop-in center is dealing with setbacks, too

It is two steps forward and half a step back when it comes to getting up and running that highly unusual drop-in center in North Minneapolis we first told you about back in February.

Called Northside Women’s Space, it’s planned as a short-term refuge for women and girls engaged in prostitution but also as their gateway to a healthier, happier, safer life in a regular job that pays a living wage. Supporters had hoped they’d open the center this month at Kwanzaa (Presbyterian) Community Church in North Minneapolis.

Now the May opening may not happen.

The center — the inspiration of University of Minnesota sex trafficking researcher Lauren Martin — is designed as a place where the women and girls she calls victims of prostitution can take a break. They can wash up or use a phone, have refreshments and connect with community resources. Here, if things turn out as planned, they’ll be able to sign up for health classes, counseling, job search support, chemical dependency referrals, HIV/AIDS services and spiritual help.

There’s a lot of support for those aims, including Kwanzaa’s co-pastors Alika and Ralph Galloway, who see the church’s mission as helping free people from the sex trade.

“I feel like we’re making progress,” Martin said.
 
But there are delays, including a hole in the church roof near the loft area that would house the women’s space, and a lack of funds to repair it.

“We don’t want to open a space that is supposed to be a place of respite and support if we have a hole in the roof,” Martin said. A generous roofer has offered the labor, but the group needs to raise $5,000 to $7,000 to pay for roofing supplies.

On the positive side, says Martin, a Ph.D., they now have part-time staff for the center, thanks to the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota, the same folks who have helped support Martin’s research on prostitution. CURA has offered the staffing help of a Ph.D. student with social work and public policy background and extensive experience working with the prostitute population.

Lauren Martin
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Lauren Martin, a University of Minnesota sex trafficking researcher, came up with the idea for the drop-in center.

Besides Kwanzaa, major partners include two nonprofit agencies that work with those engaged in prostitution: Breaking Free of St. Paul and PRIDE of Family & Children’s Services in Minneapolis, as well as Family Planning Services at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis. They also have strong support from a group of women who used to trade or sell sex.

And an open house in January to publicize the center drew a groundswell of support and about 100 people, including city and local health-care providers, police, outreach workers, neighbors and church members.

Further, they’re awaiting word on funding grant applications from a number of nonprofit and government sources.

To open the doors this summer and into fall a couple of times a week, they need $15,000 to $20,000, Martin says. “I think we’ll get it.” But to keep the center going and operate 30 hours a week will cost closer to $150,000 a year, she said.

“We’re building the program components, but we’re starting really small because we want the women to guide us” in what they need, Martin said.

She believes interest in stopping human sex trafficking is growing and that that funnels down to North Minneapolis where poverty can force women into prostitution.

Her survey between 2005 and 2007 of 155 people living or working in North Minneapolis who had traded or sold sex or sexual activity revealed 90 percent were unemployed and living in poverty.

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