Camden in talks to set up a diversionary program for the city's prostitutes

As I mentioned in my story last weekend on the increase of prostitutes in Camden, various other cities also are struggling to find ways to deal with the root cause of the issue. More often than not, officials say, prostitutes are drug addicts who need help sobering up and staying clean.

Though Camden does not have any diversionary programs like the one in Philadelphia I referenced in my story, the police and county prosecutor’s office have been working closely with the local nonprofit Seeds of Hope’s ministry “She Has a Name,” which helps the city’s prostitutes. The group’s founders, Bill and Brenda Antinore, met with the prosecutor's office and other local law enforcement agencies in July to discuss the implementation of a diversion program in Camden.

Brenda Antinore tells me the proposal was well-received and hopes that within a year, a diversionary program can be up and running in Camden. She would like to have a program similar to one in Dallas, which would address the women’s addiction and abuse issues by sending them to treatment instead of jail.

“You are seeing the same face over and over again,” Antinore said.

One of those repeat faces is Giselle, the 31-year-old prostitute and drug addict I interviewed for my story. Her story was amazing, and I could tell only a portion of it in my article.

Here are some excerpts of my interview with Giselle.

At her size (4-foot-9 and 85 pounds) and with her track record (prostituting herself and using drugs since she was 16), Giselle knows it’s a miracle she is still alive. Even Antinore fears that she will one day get a phone call asking to identify Giselle’s body.

“Girls get raped every day, and when new girls come, the [pimps] make them pay” to be able to get a corner to work, Giselle said.

Unlike many of the women on the street, Giselle says, she has no family left. Her parents were both HIV positive and died of complications. Her brother died of a drug overdose and her sister of kidney failure.

The only support she has found is Antinore, whom she describes as her hero and idol. Antinore and her husband are former drug addicts.

“I wish I could get clean. I look at Brenda and she did it,” Giselle says.

But even Antinore hasn’t been able to get Giselle permanently off the streets.

“Being clean for me is really scary,” says Giselle, who has been a drug addict since she was 15 and living in Puerto Rico.

She started with marijuana and then experimented with other drugs. She was hooked.

When she lived in Boston, she and a friend would drive down to Camden to buy crack cocaine and heroin to resell in Boston. Four years ago, Giselle decided she liked Camden and stayed.

Now she lives with her best friend — another prostitute she met in Camden — in a boarded-up vacant house near Broadway. She makes enough money to buy food and her daily cocktails of drugs. Any extra goes toward gambling, alcohol and cigarettes. She gets her clothes from dumpsters, she told me, showing off her gray American Eagle sweater and red puffy jacket.

Giselle has had one child, whom she gave up for adoption when he was born seven years ago. Now she wants to have a baby to keep.

“If I get pregnant, I will automatically take myself off” the streets and the lifestyle that accompanies it, she said.

She hopes that by the time she does conceive a baby, Antinore’s new drop-in center is up and running so she can have the much-needed support and help.

The Antinores recently bought a three-story house on Broadway near Ferry Avenue to convert into a counseling and drop-in center for prostitutes and drug addicts. The center is expected to be open by the start of the year.

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