A city plan in the works could lure people out of the sex trade.
The 25-point action plan, still in its formative stages, involves multiple agencies employing several approaches to guide the most at-risk sex trade workers on Nanaimo’s streets into healthier lives.
The plan was discussed at a community meeting in February when Nob Hill area residents met with John Horn, city social planner and members of the Nanaimo RCMP Bike Unit.
Residents cited increased sex trade activity around Nob Hill Park and verbal altercations between sex trade workers and residents.
“For the last 20 years, the Nob Hill neighbourhood … has had to endure the company of prostitutes, their johns, pimps, drug dealers and heavy drug use right outside our front doors on our sidewalks,” said Terez Bajan, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin.
The perception is the situation has worsened since Bill C-36 was passed in December to give sex trade workers greater safety while targeting johns, pimps and those who feed off prostitution proceeds.
About 20 prostitutes work Nanaimo’s streets, down from about 150 in 2003. Horn said the majority now conduct business via Internet, which is safer for service providers and clients.
Const. Derek Balderston, Nanaimo RCMP Bike Unit member, said about three to five women work the streets at any one time.
“It’s those who are really struggling in life that are out there,” Balderston said.
Horn said it’s distressing and alarming for a community, but arresting sex trade workers doesn’t help them improve their lives and forcing them into remote areas of the city puts them at higher risk.
“Our response tends to be let’s find ways to help them exit that line of work,” Horn said.
Ideas include peer-driven response tactics, where prostitutes can talk to people who have recovered from addiction and gotten out of the the trade. They could staff safe, drop-in centres where sex trade workers could get a coffee, pick up personal protection supplies and discuss options for getting into recovery. The idea is similar to the Living in Community program already operating in Vancouver. That program, operating since 2004, relies on the co-operation of residents, neighbourhood houses, business associations, community policing centres, government, non-profit agencies and sex workers.
Horn said the strategies and available resources are being worked and projected costs have to be tallied, but a framework for the plan could be presented by the end of June.