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Pilot program to provide medical, social services to Mission District sex workers

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen has spearheaded a pilot program to offer medical and social services to sex workers in the Mission District starting next month. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Outreach workers will offer medical and social services to sex workers in San Francisco’s Mission District starting next month as part of a new pilot program spearheaded by Supervisor Hillary Ronen.

The peer-based outreach program operated by St. James Infirmary, a clinic that has worked with sex workers in other parts of the city since 1999, will operate out of a van between midnight and 5 a.m., peak hours for those in the sex trades.

Ronen said the program is intended to help address some public safety concerns around sex workers in the Mission District, who are particularly concentrated in the areas of Capp and Shotwell streets.

Residents frequently call in complaints about excessive noise, acts of violence against sex workers and speeding by Johns and pimps driving up and down the street, Ronen said.

While police have done sting operations and made arrests, that tactic usually just causes the sex workers to relocate a short distance away.

“Residents who live in these hot spot areas regularly contact me very upset-not only do they often hear late night arguments, but they can actually hear women being beaten. One constituent told me he witnessed a woman being beaten with a pipe outside his window,” Ronen said.

“I don’t want to continue doing the same thing if it yields the same unwanted result,” she said. “I want us to engage directly with the sex workers and increase public safety for everyone in the neighborhood.”

The outreach program is intended to make it easier for women to access services and potentially to feel safe reporting crimes against them.

According to St. James Infirmary, around 70 percent of its clients have never disclosed their occupation to a medical or social service provider out of fear that they will be treated badly.

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