ON THE GROUND: Working Women's Crack Project

Dominic Wood

Scheme: To provide accommodation, detox and rehabilitation to sex workers who use crack in Lambeth.

Funding: Criminal Justice Intervention Project gave £85,000 for project expenses and salaries of the women's crack outreach worker and a women's services co-ordinator

Objective: To move women away from prostitution and drug use and open up treatment and housing options

Following the closure of local crack houses by Lambeth police last summer, a multi-agency scheme was set up to house, detox and rehabilitate female sex workers who use crack.

The Working Women's Crack Project began last November in a secret location in south London. "The need for this has existed for a while now, but grew when the police moved in," says Sue Clark, manager of St Mungo's substance use team.

Extra local government money salaried the project's two specialist full-time posts: a crack outreach worker and a services co-ordinator. A dedicated hospital worker was also recruited last month.

Its partners are St Mungo's Housing Association, Stockwell Drug Project, the Lambeth Crime Prevention Trust and Lambeth Substance Misuse team.

When the police emptied houses full of people either addicted to, or selling crack, St Mungo's freed up space in one of its hospitals. "The scheme's first stage attempts to get the women to a place both physically and mentally where they can accept treatment," says Clark. "It begins to stabilise their lifestyles and moves them away from abusive relationships.

"We provide them with housing and support, discuss options and prepare them for treatment. Once ready, they move to a 10-bed unit in a different hospital." The second phase moves their lives forward: some reconnect with their children, some take part in hospital-based work and learning, while others enter the workplace through voluntary sector placements.

Sixty women have been referred to the project so far, from Lambeth drop-in centres, outreach services, and St Mungo's street workers. Just a handful have dropped out, while 19 have progressed to the second stage.

One woman aided by the project says: "It has helped me a hell of a lot. It has given me somewhere to live and shown me a part of life I had forgotten."

The project's success was rewarded in July with the Association of London Government's Andy Ludlow Award, worth £8,000. The project team is now seeking more funding to make the project permanent.

Clark feels the 'working' part of the project name is inaccurate and should reflect what it serves - prostituted women. But she worries this term could cause outrage among funders and sections of the press. "All partners will discuss the name this month, along with how to move forward with the project. But the priority is to maintain a scheme that keeps these women safe."

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