Peoria Home for former sex workers gains nonprofit status

EVERETT — Snohomish County is one step closer to opening a home for former sex workers trying to rebuild their lives.

Organizers working to establish Peoria Home recently were notified that the program received nonprofit status. That means donations will be tax deductible. The board hopes that will help fundraising efforts.

Peoria Home will be a two-year program for women who have worked as prostitutes. It will give them a place to live, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, medical and dental care, education and job training. Eventually, the program will include a small business run by the participants to help them build job skills and also make money to support the program.

“We want to help them redefine their lives,” said Paula Newman-Skomski, a nurse with Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse.

It is estimated that about 250 girls and women are engaged in prostitution in Snohomish County, Newman-Skomski said. That is a rough estimate because prostitution and sex trafficking mostly have gone underground with “dates” being arranged online instead of women walking the streets.

Most women and adolescents who work as prostitutes have been sexually or physically abused growing up and have run away from home. Pimps often target teens without strong family ties. The sex workers often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the lifestyle, Newman-Skomski said.

“They haven’t completed their education. They don’t have other job skills. It’s a very difficult cycle to break,” she said.

The Snohomish County recovery house is being modeled after Magdalene, a program in Nashville, Tenn., that started in 1997 with one house. It now has six houses that function without live-in staff. The program operates Thistle Farms, employing more than 40 women, including graduates of Magdalene. The women make bath products, candles, papers and teas. The money, along with private donations, is used to help fund Magdalene. About 72 percent of the women are clean and sober 2½ years after joining the program.

Peoria Home organizers are working to raise about $500,000 to purchase a house and run the operation for the first year, including hiring an onsite manager. Beyond the initial year, the program is expected to be self-run.

The public is invited to attend a fundraising dinner and auction from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Everett Holiday Inn, 3105 Pine St. Speakers will include former sex workers who graduated from the Thistle Farms program. The women are expected to talk about their experiences on the street and what the program has done for them.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online at http://fallevent2014.bpt.me or by calling 425-297-5773. Event organizers are accepting donations and sponsors for the auction.

For more information about Peoria Home visit www.peoriahome.org.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley

To report human trafficking, call the county’s 24-hour hotline at 425-258-9037. To request more information about trafficking or to set up an educational presentation send an email to humantrafficking@providence.org.

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