By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — January is human trafficking awareness month and a Kensington drop-in center for women is using the time to educate their public about the sex trade going on right under your nose.
Located at the corner of Kensington and Lehigh Avenue, The Salvation Army’s New Day Drop-In Center is located in an area rife with sex crimes. But look beneath the surface and many of the so-called prostitutes common on those streets are victims, forced to sell their bodies, or suffer the consequences.
“They’re coerced or forced into it by a pimp, by a sex buyer or by a john or by an abusive boyfriend or husband,” says Jamie Manirakiza, director of anti-trafficking and social services for the Salvation Army. She says the small center, which is open Monday through Thursday stays busy. They see anywhere 15 to 25 women a day.
“They come in and they look for clothing and toiletries,” says Manirakiza. “We also have a shower and a washer and dryer so they come here for that as well.”
The Department of Justice awarded The Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking program a $500,000 grant to expand the program.
“We see women trafficked all across the state,” says Manirakiza. “We’ll use this money to make sure as we get tips and calls that we are streamlining services.”
Arielle Lopez is program director at New Day and sees many of the women at their worst.
“They’ll come in here high, they’ll come in here between dates,” she says, “they’ll come in here beat up, bloodied up, but part of what we do is to just love them where they’re at and meet they’re needs where they’re at.”
Lopez says a big part of what their staff does is build relationships with the women, providing a link between the streets and residential and social services programs.
“Society views these women as throwaways, as a ho, a hooker, a prostitute, or whatever else they want to call them,” says Lopez, “but we view them as humans, we try to empower them. We are not going to shy away because the rest of Kensington does.”
Lopez told stories of women who were able to get off the streets, but it’s not easy in large part because of fear and many of the women’s stories end with death by overdose and violence. But they’re hoping New Day– can change that.
“They’re not many places like us,” she says, “we want women to know they have a place to go to.”
For more on the New Day Center, go to www.salvationarmyphiladelphia.org. To donate using a cell phone, text “New Day Center” to 41444.