Their Ultimate Goal is to Turnaround Women Working the Streets
Imagine a team of volunteers pulling up in a limousine to seedy hotels throughout Houston for “Christmas in the Streets,” an outreach event giving away necessary supplies and hope to women working the streets.
Kindness matters. A common practice for people in recovery is expressing kindness by giving back and sharing their story. It’s a powerful way to help motivate others to change.
Houston Recovery Center staff, Kelly Kemp and Angel Phillips, recently went to the streets to offer hope and make a difference in the neighborhoods where they lived out their own substance use disorder and street life years ago.
Kelly Kemp, wellness advocate with FRONTLINES, describes herself as a “survivor of the streets”. She joined Project Girls outreach, started by Tracy Dudley in 2012, which serves neighborhoods on the southeast side of Houston. Another street outreach program, Started from the Bottom, was started 15 years ago by Kimberly Isaac, which serves women working the north side of Houston. Dudley and Isaac are both survivors of human trafficking who go out to love on and minister to women still enduring the exploitation.
In December 2020, these two groups of volunteers joined forces for an event called “Christmas in the Streets.” They handed out hygiene kits, condoms, purses, and socks and talked to the women they met. This year, the packs included Narcan, provided by Houston Recovery Center’s opioid grant, Texas Targeted Opioid Response. And they arrived in style! The volunteers were chauffeured in a limousine, thanks to the Isaac’s who own a limo service.
“I’m so grateful to be a part of that,” Kemp relates. “It was crazy, with the limo we got so much attention. Girls heard we were coming and 30 were outside one hotel. Probably 95 percent were totally happy we were there.” Kemp says they started at a hotel on Telephone Road, where most women walk up and down the street, and drove the limo to eight or nine different stops.
“It was good to give back and see people I knew before – and let them see me before and after,” Kemp describes. “It gives the girls hope that they can make a change after being beaten down. A couple girls cried on my shoulder.”
Kemp says it’s important for the women to see there is a way out, if they want it. Prostitution to earn money for drugs is an addiction, too, she says. “That easy money is hard to get away from.”
Angel Phillips, recovery support specialist with HEROES, has participated in this annual Christmas event twice. She says it’s important to show the women there are people who love them and are there for them.
“Once we were stuck and now we’re living a new life,” Phillips says. “We can be there for them to help them navigate a different life.”
The women in the streets are excited to see the street outreach team and are used to the presence of Project Girls, says Phillips. She says a lot of girls from the hotel life are still there from when she was there years ago.
“I sold drugs in these same hotels,” Phillips relates. “Drugs and prostitution go hand in hand. To reach out and do something positive there was mind-blowing.”
Phillips knew Kemp from the hotel life and now their paths have crossed at Houston Recovery Center – serving others.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of this,” Phillips says.
Since 2012, Project Girls has placed up to 300 women a year in detox treatment facilities as a result of its outreach services in high-risk areas in SE Houston and Harris County Jail. Tracy Dudley, PRSS/RC, LRCC is CEO of Women Motivating Women Inc., which started Project Girls. Dudley is a survivor of human trafficking who left behind her life devastated behind drug addiction, trauma and years in jail. She went back to the same area on Telephone Road she lived to help those still living the life. Because of this lived experience, they trust her.
“This trust creates the doorway for the girls to walk through, whether they are in the game or want out,” Dudley said. “We see the greatest impact when an individual realizes they can “flip their hustle,” realizing all the mistakes they made, high-risk situations are transferrable skills.”
Started From the Bottom:
Kimberly Isaac began Started From the Bottom in 2015 when she noticed many homeless and girls from street life going in and out of the treatment environment without follow-up or aftercare. Coming from that lifestyle and being a human trafficking survivor herself, Isaac knew the missing link was meeting them where they are at, on the streets, and reminding them that we loved them and genuinely cared about them — NO MATTER WHAT.
“We offer our phone number and, of course, care packages but most importantly we offer unconditional understanding,” Isaac relates. “I want them to know their story does not have to end in the streets. And that the recovery community is a forgiving one, and we are always going to be here when the time is right.”
Isaac now knows that the times she was cold, hungry, alone and in the dark were not in vain. She understands stigma that comes from others in the recovery community after relapsing after 14 years of continuous sobriety.
“All along I was going through everything for a purpose,” she says. “It has been a part of my assignment from the beginning.”
Isaac estimates her community outreach helps 40-50 women per year get into residential substance treatment — and another 100-150 are given the resources they need immediately on the streets.