Prostitutes’ drop-in centre for Holbeck

A new planning application has been submitted to change an unused residential caretakers building at 1 Sydenham Street, off Domestic Street in Holbeck, to office use and counselling and education/training support services use. At first site this sounds pretty innocuous until you start to dig a bit deeper.

The applicant is a charitable organisation called Joanna – a Leeds-based charity outreach and support project that works with vulnerable and hard to reach women who are trapped in street prostitution and life controlling addiction. The aim is to set up a drop-in centre for prostitutes there. The building is less than 200 yards from nearby residential housing.

I live in the nearby housing and I am secretary of the local residents association. I am extremely annoyed and upset at the prospect of more prostitutes being drawn in to the area to make use of the services provided there. I have personally been involved in the campaign to rid our streets of prostitutes since 2004 and in recent times the police and other authorities seem to have done a very good job in reducing the blight on our area. However, figures from 2004 suggested there were 170 or more prostitutes on the streets in Leeds; Joanna has estimated a figure of more than 250 now.

I am further outraged by the lack of prior information and the timing of this application:

  • Council officers have known for some time about this development and have been advising the organisation about the matter prior to when the application was submitted on 12 December. They have not spoken to the local people about it.
  • The site notice and advert was published on the council website on Thursday 19 December. The public notice will go on view around the property on 24 December with comments/objections required by 14 January. In my opinion, this has been deliberately arranged over the holiday period to reduce its impact and the desire and opportunity for people to put forward their objections.

I hope that readers of the blog potentially affected by this planning application will make their voices heard.

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16 Replies to “Prostitutes’ drop-in centre for Holbeck”

  1. I’m a bit confused about this article.. ?? – Joanna’s purpose is to “empower service users to EXIT prostitution and sustain a new life.” – Doesn’t that mean that this centre will go towards addressing the problem, not exacerbating it?

    I can’t imagine that a centre like this is going to attract prostitutes to Holbeck, but it will help the ones that use the area to move away from the street work that nobody likes the idea of them doing. Why wouldn’t anybody want a centre to be set up to help rid the area of prostitution ?

    As far as timing goes, I personally find it hard to believe that timing has been contrived in the way this article suggests, It just doesn’t fit with the the open and transparent way that I know that Joanna staff work. My guess is its just the way the process has unfurled.

    I would hope that we could all support this positive move to help reduce the street work problem in South Leeds

  2. I agree with Dave Florence. I don’t see how providing support services to sex workers will make the problem in Holbeck worse.

    Sex workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and I welcome that they will, hopefully, be getting more support in Holbeck. Before anyone objects to the proposal I’d urge them to read the Joanna website linked above, particulary the profile of the people who need their help:

  3. As someone who has worked with the Joanna charity for some time and a south Leeds resident can i just say a few words. Thoughts of my own, mind you and not official policies of Joanna.

    1. A lot of the women working in holbeck, live in holbeck. This idea that women are flocking to the area is a bit far fetched.
    2. Many women leaving prison seem to be re-housed in holbeck, neither helping those wanting to avoid returning to that life or the residents. This is something worth fighting rather than a building to help people.
    3. the building isn’t going to be advertised to women, apart from those who work in holbeck (although your article has done just that) therefore i doubt floods of women will flock to holbeck to come to the centre (besides, we just wouldn’t have the room)
    4. We have to accept that prostitution is alive in holbeck, surely a centre trying to help these women quit is a good thing.
    5. I don’t think this building is a secret, or the timing is a deliberate act. Joanna is a small charity who don’t have the resources or interest in playing by fat cat rules.
    6. I think the figures quoted are misleading. 250 women most likely covers the whole of Leeds and includes women who work in parlours and indoors.

    how anyone can be against a small charity trying to help women leave a dangerous lifestyle and become free of violence and addiction is beyond me.

  4. Agree with the comments above. Joanna does worthwhile work with vulnerable people and perhaps we should concentrate our ire on the ‘men’ who ‘flock’ to Holbeck to exploit them.

  5. I live in Holbeck and am so so glad that Joanna is planning what sounds like a fantastic venture.
    It is very sad that these women get stigmatised and that sadly so many want them to leave the area, for the police to move them on. What does moving people on actually achieve? Relocation of prostitution does not solve prostitution.
    I am so glad of the work of Joanna and Genesis in the area to give support and dignity to these women.
    I think it is a strategic and well thought out decision for this to be proposed to be placed in Holbeck. I hope so much that people carefully consider the implications of preventing a centre that could help these women. Let us be united in working and hoping for a better South Leeds where people can be supported and helped. Each person makes up this area. It does not belong to a certain number of people. It would be sad to think that residents of South Leeds would have to be moved out for the area to improve.
    Let us support holistic solutions instead.

  6. Myself and my family are appalled at the fact that planning to develop a drop in centre for prostitutes has not been communicated and has gone ahead without any consideration of local residents.

    I personally have been involved in trying to rid Holbeck of prostitutes, not attract them. Is opening this centre not just simply legalising prostitution in Holbeck?
    The reason for the centre is to protect the most vulnerable of women, however by opening it is putting local residents in danger. It appears that the safety of the prostitutes is a priority over those of us who have been living here for almost two decades and that we would be inviting crime into the area.

    Those proposing the idea would not approve of such a drop in centre in their local area. Opening it will drive the hard working, tax paying, locals to move away from the area and it will become an area full of prostitutes and criminals (after all, this is not a legal activity), non of which pay any taxes or contribute to the economy of Holbeck.

    This is somewhat unfair and an adequate petition needs to provided so us locals can have a say what goes on on our doorsteps. After all, who wants to walk home from a hard days work to be interrogated by ‘those soliciting for prostitution’ or the creatures they attract?

  7. I left a response earlier. Will it not be published as it was against the drop in Centre?

  8. Sherron

    I’m confused – isn’t the aim of the Joanna project – see earlier comments above – to help women exit prostitution? Women who solicit on the streets won’t come to Holbeck because of a drop in centre but because it is now, unfortunately, a known area where prostitutes solicit so men who want to pay for sex come to the area.

    It seems to me the solution is two-fold – to provide the kind of services the Joanna project provides and help the women involved to exit prostitution and secondly for the police to arrest kerb crawlers and name and shame them.

    I was involved some years ago with a community safety group who managed to adopt both these approaches and shifted the problem elsewhere… I think the Council is trying to put together a city wide strategy for dealing with prostitution which in my view is doomed to failure. In reality, we are not going to eliminate prostitution but we can get it off the streets and move it out of our area.

  9. As a resident of Holbeck this is my take on this …

    You first of all need to look at the aims of Joanna …..

    They want …. “through practical and emotional support, befriending and mentoring to enable women to exit prostitution and sustain a new life”

    Joanna have already been successful in enabling woman to exit prostitution, and do some quite amazing work in the community, under great pressure, and with very few resources.

    Community safety is their priority. Anything which helps their work, and protects vulnerable woman from exploitation and misery needs our support.

    This is a very small project and will not see women flooding into the area. Instead it is to offer an alternative to working the streets for those already there.

  10. I feel like we’re getting things out of proportion here.

    Holbeck already has a prostitution population, they’re already here and opening a centre to help these vulnerable women escape this lifestyle is not going to start what is already happening.

    Joanna took a lot of time finding a building away from housing and the small building is located in an industrial part of Holbeck. No one needs fear that this building is next to housing, it isn’t.
    The building itself will not be advertised outside of the women they work with in Holbeck, nor will the building have any notices or banners outside to advertise the building.
    In fact, the only advertising I can find on this buildings location is by the writer of this blog who, despite saying he objects to the prospect of drawing in prostitutes from other areas, has put both the address and a map to help people find it.

    I find Sherrons comments the most confusing though, How would running computer, cooking and craft classes help in legalising prostitution? Perhaps she thinks prostitution will become legal if the women give out hand baked cookies as part of the service.

    How will it put local people in danger if it is creating a place for the women to get away from a dangerous lifestyle?

    Is offering counselling going to increase that womans need to work, or help guide her towards a life free from standing on Holbeck streets?

    Joanna is a Christian charity, committed to working to help women exit prostitution, not help them continue or increase what they do. They have a good success rate and a good reputation with the police and other agencies. The size of the building they are wanting to use is a small house, certainly not large enough to create this amount of fear. I doubt local people will even notice the building change, or if they do, will approve that an otherwise empty building has a use.

    This could be something Holbeck residents get behind and are proud of, it could change the face of Holbeck and be the one thing that does help stop prostitution in the area.

    Don’t forget, these “creatures” are women from all backgrounds, some abusive, some nice middle-class families. They are all someones daughter, sister, mother, aunt or friend. Imagine if that was your daughter, caught up in drugs and feeling prostitution is the only way out. Surely you would be pulling your hair out wanting this kind of support to be made available.

  11. I completely agree with Sherron Greenhow’s comment and would further add that I think the police need to take a tougher approach on this issue again

    I recall a few years ago, the police did get tough and issued antisocial orders banning known prostitutes from the area and their faces were publicised for locals to report any sightings, this method worked well, then somewhere down the line, it was back to a softly softly approach and we now have the numbers increasing again

    One point that no one seems to think of… I assume these women are in receipt of income support and housing benefit, so in theory they are ‘working’ aswell and not declaring this. smacks of greed. add to this a drop in centre to help them whilst they defraud the system is hypocricy

  12. Steve D

    I do hope your comment on the issuing of ASBO’s based on fact or opinion? I only ask because my understanding is that the use of ASBO’s to try and ‘eradicate’ street prostitution was largely ineffective and are no longer used. Unless we address the issue of why men purchase sex in the first place it is pointless looking for ways of punishing those involved. Why are we always looking to demonise women who see alternative but to go out on the streets and sell sex, yet men who buy rarely get a mention. I would also like to point out that the danger to communities from street based prostitution is far less than to the women themselves who are frequently subjected to appalling abuse. You are also very blinkered if you really believe these women are driven by greed and not the reality which is that they are nearly all driven by desperation, often made to work for others (husbands, violent partners) and some just by poverty. Let’s end the same old rhetoric about benefit scrounge rs largely fuelled by the media, very few of these women claim benefits as the do not have the fixed address required to do so. Perhaps if you or any of the concerned residents actually took the time out to speak to these women and hear about the hand life has dealt them you might have even just an ounce of compassion and be able to form argument based on facts and reality rather than judgements and personal opinion. I hope no-one ever kicks you when you’re down, it’s not hard to fall off – it could happen to any of us. Let’s hope if you or anyone you love ever finds themselves in not so great a place they are met with support and empathy not opposition and vitriol.

  13. Being a prostitute is difficult and i would assume that making a decision for that career path is also difficult. As we all know it is never a first choice for every human being to sell themself, but rather a desperation to satisfy an uncontrollable need. Unlike you may think, lots of those women get into prostitution to feed their families and not their adictions as it is always known to be. Having a prostitute centre is good, but we have to remember that among those who will attend the centre, some will be secret agents coming in to identify those hold by paedophiles. Instead of financing local project for prostitutes which is not to be disclaimed, it is rather easy not to let those who instigate this type of activities get greedy by reducing the number of local clubs and by making sure that those that are opened are not involved in dodgy deals.

  14. As there has been a great deal of discussion about The Joanna Project’s proposal to open a Daytime Drop in Sanctuary I thought some accurate information may be helpful. Joanna has been working with women working on the streets since 2004. We help women exit prostitution and sustain healthy, whole lives. Over the years we have built up extensive knowledge of the issues that have resulted in women being trapped by life controlling addictions and sexual exploitation and we work cooperatively with many other organisations. On our Evening Outreach we meet many women who are desperate for help to change their lives .Our Day Time Team helps them do this, but as some women have no address or telephone, it is hard to find them during the day so we are then unable to help arrange appointments with Housing Options or for Drug treatment etc. It is only by addressing these real issues that women will be able to stop working on the streets. Law enforcement alone has not and will not be successful in stopping women working, as the grip of addiction, complex mental and physical health issues and homelessness are all stronger drivers than arrests and fines. We realised that we could help more women exit prostitution by making help more accessible to the women already working in Holbeck, whose chaotic lives and complex problems prevent them from travelling to access help. So the idea of our day time drop-in was born. We understand that it is distressing to residents to see women working on the streets. Our aim is to reduce the problem not make it worse. We made sure we found a building away from houses in a location that would be unobtrusive and cause no disruption to local residents. By taking an empty, deteriorating building, refurbishing it and putting it back into use we are helping with the regeneration of the area rather than hindering it. It will be used by women already working on the streets of Holbeck and there is no evidence from other similar projects to support the belief that our presence will attract more women to work in the area. I hope we all want the same thing , to see women helped to exit prostitution.

  15. I think this project is just what Holbeck needs. I worked the streets of Holbeck for over 2yrs, never threw sexual contraband or needles which understand infuriates the community, but without these accessible services no one has got a cat in hell’s chance. As for the woman claim benefits, the women are out all hours and mainly sleep all day missing daycare appointments, housing, treatment and welfare appointments. When in active addiction all the woman thinks is when the next fix is and how can we get it?? We, well I, used to make more money on the streets and never signed on or claimed while working the streets. I’ve been clean 6 months now and very close too coming off my medication, haven’t used once since I stopped. I’ve got a new way of life it’s all about change and until the women are ready you gotta be a hand in waiting. Thanks.

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