Street’s Hope was born in 2004 when a woman named Leanne Downing looked out of her world and saw other women living in a reality that she wanted to understand. She wanted to find a way to connect with and offer hope to these women, and began the practice of street outreach to find out how and where those connections could be made. Over time, Street’s Hope added programs and services, but street outreach has always been the foundation of our work.
When I began as Executive Director, I wanted to be part of this practice as a way of finding my own relationship with the history, the mission, and the program of Street’s Hope, and also as a way to discover a direct and visceral connection to the issue of sex work and human trafficking. The first time I went with a group of staff, we saw a young woman passed out on the floor of a motel room, door wide open. At the same time, men, women and children flocked to our car, parked in the motel parking lot, in need of condoms, tampons, shampoo, toilet paper, and toothbrushes for the little kids. These images are sharp and clear and always with me.
I learned the names of the motels that line East Colfax: Sand and Sage, Shepard’s, the Airway, Branding Iron, Seven Star. I spent early mornings every week in the winter cold, watching the Audis and Porsches slip in and out of the parking lots where women stand just behind the doors, waiting for the drivers to fill the spots in front of their rooms. I learned the names of some of the women, and learned to look out on the street before we ventured out with our bags of offerings, because every day is different. Some days it clearly isn’t safe.
More than anything I have heard or witnessed at Street’s Hope, street outreach has moved me, brought me to tears, and made me determined to find the ways that we can make a difference. To me, it is the heart of the matter, as compelling and necessary as any of the services we provide. To be in the presence of the sheer determination to survive that walks that street, to witness the rage at circumstance that cripples and destroys bright souls, to wrap your arms around a woman who believes that no one sees her, is to be forever changed.