Door of Hope has a legacy spanning three decades of delivering outreach to women involved in street-based prostitution in East London. In that time, daytime support has come and gone with funding. Over a year ago Beyond the Streets received funding to develop the Door of Hope projects daytime support, here are some of our reflections from over this time:
1. Think long term. We know that relationship of trust is fundamental to any outcomes for women in this situation. Research suggests it takes two years of consistent support to build a healthy level of trust. This is especially true where women have experiences of class A drugs, homelessness and historic experiences of transient support workers. In our context, if you want to see change in women’s lives, you need to offer long term, consistent support. After a year of delivering daytime support, our Women’s Support Worker’s are seeing an improvement in engagement and are convinced that building trust is a major part of this.
2. Safety first. Establishing safety with women is essential for her to make any changes in her circumstances. When women present in crisis, as they almost always do in our context, it’s tempting to go into rescue and fix mode. We’ve learnt to ask a different question: in the short term, how can we work with this woman to increase her safety in this current crisis? While journeying with her to address the longer term, root causes of her situation. We work alongside women to establish her sense of safety through safety planning and sharing sexual health resources and clean works that minimise the possible harm of selling sex and injecting substances.
3. Keep score. We’ve seen the value of taking the time to establish strong monitoring and evaluation systems that collect data on the women we support, and they support we’re offering. In a context where change seems slow, our data traces the small, positive steps forward that women are taking with our intervention. It also helps us keep track of key trends, that we might not spot while we’re going about our busy roles.
4. Dovetail support. Our new daytime support service has dovetailed in with our existing outreach activities. They compliment each other well, with outreach becoming a gateway to in depth support for many women. Many of the women we meet on outreach are ‘pre-contemplation’ meaning they are not quite ready for change. Our outreach team being a consistent presence on the streets, who offer daytime support during every interaction, means that women know where to come for support when they are ready for change.
5. Build an inclusive & informed team. We have found that including women with lived experience of sexual exploitation and addiction into our team of staff and volunteers is crucial to being truly “women centered”. It helps women who sell sex engage and see the potential of life beyond prostitution. In a context where progress feels slow, working alongside women who have exited prostitution themselves is a daily encouragement to our team that no matter the situation, lives can chan ge for the better. The insight of those with lived experience helps shape us to be truly women client centered – their feedback informs our policies and practice.
6. Know your project. As you grow, it’s easy for your values and identity to become confused or diluted as you invite new people, with different flavours to join your team and begin partnership working with organisations different from your own. A year ago we spent time as a team thinking through what makes us distinctively Door of Hope – the language we use, the way we treat and talk about women, the personal touches that other projects don’t offer – and have fought to keep them at the heart of our growing work.
7. Listen to the women not in the room. Our golden question: who isn’t engaging with support & why? We have found that listening to current service users and women who are reluctant to access our support is essential. Our listening resulted in us piloting drop ins at different times in different locations to find the ideal scenario for women to access further support – we’ve found 7-8am at a café in the area women sell sex to be most popular. It runs in a breakfast club style format and means that when a woman asks the outreach team for support, she can be referred directly to our women’s support workers who are waiting in the café across the road.
8. Make sure your values match. Our daytime support service was commissioned by a funder that shares our values and crucially, our perspective as prostitution as a form of violence against women. It’s meant from the beginning we’ve shared the same vision for women’s lives and have enjoyed a productive professional partnership. It’s meant the KPI’s attached to our funding work towards a goal we would have set for ourselves and are (largely) happy to work to. This is essential for a healthy project, we would always recommend waiting for the right partnership with a funder you can work well with, rather than compromising your values and professional practice.
9. Better together. We’ve learnt that the women we support come into contact with multiple professionals. Her work with us, is one piece of the puzzle. When shared safely (with consent!) in a confidential multi-agency setting, the pieces that other professionals can lay can you give you all a clearer picture of her situation, resulting in the development of a co-ordinated multi-agency response that offers her the very best support. We are advocates of multi-agency working.