Aileen’s 1 Yr Anniversary Update & How we are responding to COVID-19 pandemic

Hello friends and family of Aileen’s,

As we are collectively facing and dealing with social and economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic, we wanted to update you, our friends and family, about where Aileen’s is on its first anniversary.

We didn’t imagine the world under quarantine when Aileen’s was founded about a year ago, but we couldn’t have imagined how far our peer-led hospitality and community organizing project by and for women working along the Pac Highway would grow either. In the last year, we have formally launched peer leadership program, which provides intensive case management and stipends to our peer leaders that enable them to run various aspects of Aileen’s, from hosting our drop-in hospitality space to doing harm reduction outreach and community-based action research. Our peers have come a long way—many of them are progressing toward their goals, including getting needed medical treatment, getting into housing, staying away from violent environment, rebuilding or maintaining relationships with their children, etc.

Circumstances surrounding our peers, many of whom lack stable housing, have been dire for a very long time. But things have gotten much worse under the current pandemic. Libraries, day centers, and other public spaces–where our peers receive services, take shower, cook or have a meal, be warm, interact with family and friends, charge their devices, and access health and public assistance information–are shut down. Without access to public wifi, many of our peers cannot connect to the internet or communicate with anyone. They do not have anywhere to lay down or self-isolate themselves to protect themselves and others. Their income from day labor, panhandling, street vending, and underground economy is way down in a ghost town, which leads them to take greater health and safety risks in order to survive and take care of their needs. They are having to travel further to get food and other resources they need, which is putting themselves at the risk of contracting or spreading infections. Many of the women we serve are women of color and/or trans or gender-diverse individuals who face extra stigma and violence on top of being homeless or having dependencies on substances, even at healthcare facilities, making them less likely to seek medical attention, and even when they do, they may not be treated respectfully.

Sadly we are not currently operating our drop-in hospitality space due to the pandemic, but we are still meeting our peers at our new space to hand out food, pre-packed meals, clothes, blankets, harm reduction supplies, health information, and other resources while minimizing risks associated with crowding. We have purchased cheap phones and prepaid phone cards to our peer leaders so that they can stay in touch with us as well as with their family and friends, and also access health information for themselves and their communities. We are increasing staff hours (including hiring a new part-time employee with public health background) in order to take additional health precautions, and obtain and provide resources that are in greater need due to other services closing.

In short, this is a difficult time for all of us, and particularly for women of Aileen’s, but we are still working for our women. And we will get through this together.

Will you join in our effort? We are not looking for regular volunteers because our hospitality space is closed, but we need donations more than ever! Do you have non-perishable (good, healthful) food? Good clothes? Tents, sleeping bags, tarps, propane, backpacks, etc.? Maybe I’m fantasizing, but maybe even masks, hand sanitizers, alcohol and bleach wipes, etc.? We need them all!

As always, we appreciate cash donations as well—donate online via GoFundMe (one-time) or Patreon (monthly pledge) so we can provide what our women need. Ideally we’d like to have enough funds to house our peers in a motel for a couple of weeks and deliver food and necessities to them when they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 but we don’t have that kind of resources at this point. Please help us prepare for that, and pay for the additional expenses mentioned above! We realize that many of you are also experiencing financial hardship or uncertainty due to business closures and impending recession, and we really appreciate your support.

Please stay connected (virtually), take care of yourself, your family, and your community, and let’s live through this together.

Aileen’s 2019 Accomplishments, Hopes and Challenges for 2020 (pls share widely!)

With 2019 nearly over and 2020 fast approaching, we at Aileen’s are super excited about what we have accomplished this year. Leslie and I (Emi) have been dreaming of a place like Aileen’s for many years, but it was less than a year ago when we learned about the potential County funding for new services for people engaging in/experiencing sex trade and actually began working on starting it. We invited in other women who share backgrounds in the (mostly) street-based sex trade, and together we built Aileen’s.

We opened our community organizing and hospitality space on Pac Highway in April. Using the space, we provided welcoming and accepting community for a diverse group of women, along with food, clothes, harm reduction supplies, opportunities to get involved, and more. Our contract with King County began in October, which allowed us to hire Leslie as the full-time director and lead case manager and Evan as a part-time program coordinator.

Our peer leadership project also began in October, which offers stipends for our peers (women experiencing homelessness and other adversities and are or have been in the sex trade) to lead our various programs, including harm reduction community outreach, community-based action research, social justice education and arts, and now operating the drop-in hospitality hours themselves. These opportunities are combined with intensive case management where peers receive support addressing barriers and working on the goals they set, including housing, healthcare, legal issues, family reunification, and employment, among others. Peer leadership also have the chance to develop job and life skills such as time management, effective communication, and self-care.

Through these programs, our peers interact with the rest of the community members at encampments, other social service agencies, etc. making them leaders of their own communities, not just leaders of Aileen’s. People outside of Aileen’s family are beginning to recognize our peer leaders as valuable members of their communities who are bringing in life-saving harm reduction supplies and amplifying their voices through action research.

Peer successes so far include women addressing serious health issues, receiving STD, HIV, and hep C testing, and starting medication assisted opioid treatment through our partnership with King County street medicine team that shares Aileen’s space bi-weekly. One of our peers got a legit job, another visited her children for the first time in two years, several have received support around domestic violence and/or sexual assault, and multiple lives were literally saved through the Narcan distributed Aileen’s.

Maybe more than anything else Aileen’s has afforded our peers a chance to organize and bond as peers, both inside and outside of Aileen’s. One peer summed it up this way: “The female to female bonding and camaraderie are hard to find. Because of Aileen’s we look out for each other now. That can be drastically important. A woman could literally die out here and no one would even know.” Another says “I don’t come here to get a microwave burrito or a coat. That is nice and I appreciate it but that is not why I come to Aileen’s. I come here because of the acceptance. I come here so I won’t feel judged. I come for the love.”

The reality is that all of this programming is expensive. The multiyear funding from the County is mostly paying for staff salaries and peer leadership stipends, which is what we wanted them to fund, but we also have to raise additional money for rent, utilities, food, and emergency assistance fund. Our rent is pretty low right now, but our lease is up in March and we cannot stay at the current location because the Police Department is now planning to open a substation next door to us (is it us?). In addition, our space is too small and lacks desired amenities such as shower, washer/dryer, and kitchen. We must find another location soon that is affordable and not surrounded by police cars and surveillance cameras.

We have limited time frame to figure out what to do come April 2020. We need to have several thousands of dollars cash for move-in costs and for likely increased rent, and we need it quickly. That is why we are asking our friends and supporters to give us a little more financial contribution toward Aileen’s continued success. We especially would like to have more monthly donors–no amount is too large or two small–as it would bring more predictability and stability to our finances.

To pledge to become a monthly supporter of Aileen’s, please sign up on Patreon:
http://patreon.com/aileens/

To make a one-time donation to Aileen’s, please go to GoFundMe:
http://gofundme.com/aileens/

If you need a tax receipt for your contribution to claim tax deductions, please contact us before making the donation on above links. Please share with your friends on and off social media as well!

Thank you everyone, happy holidays and have a wonderful new year!

Emi Koyama
Aileen’s Board of Directors

Aileen’s awarded a 4-year grant by the County–but still needs your help more than ever

As some of you have already heard, Aileen’s was recently awarded a four year (plus three months) grant from King County to expand our services. The grant allows us to hire Aileen’s co-founder Leslie so she can quit her day job and focus on running Aileen’s and additional part-time staff to assist her, and also provide stipends for women we serve to participate in our peer leadership program, which has been our dream from the beginning.

Peer leadership program begins with an orientation and a series of trainings on CPR/first aid, overdose prevention and response, safe sharps handling, harm reduction, and anti-oppression. After that, peer leaders are able to sign up for shifts to do harm reduction outreach at homeless encampments and other places that are not reached by existing programs, collect stories from community, lead art and social justice groups, etc. Aileen’s will provide intensive case management to address any barriers our peer leaders face, such as housing, treatment, clearing legal obstacles, developing time management and other job skills, etc.

Sounds amazing right? Well, the problem is that the County money doesn’t pay for many of our mundane and recurring costs, such as rent, utilities, toiletries and food for our hospitality space, and others. We obviously cannot exist without these things. In addition, our staff were hired as of October 1st but County grant hasn’t been deposited yet.

So what that brings us to is the fact that our bank account has $87.47 as of now, with some of the recurring payments coming soon. That is why, despite the County grant, we still need your financial support. Please donate to Aileen’s so we can continue to support our peers–women living and working along the increasingly cold Pacific Highway in south King County.

What’s happening at Aileen’s? A lot!

We apologize for lack of updates on our website, but we are getting a momentum here at Aileen’s HQ (i.e. our small community space). Here are some highlights:

  • Someone generously donated an outreach van! This helps us expand our reach in the community and will be super useful when we launch formal peer outreach program later.
  • Our space has been open for regular hours for a few months. We’ve provided hospitality, resources, community, and other necessities to our women. Please see our hours for our current hours.
  • Peer leadership & arts program is happening! This is a group for our peers to express ourselves through words and arts. We are working toward putting on an art show and publishing zines.
  • We’ve been holding monthly peer steering committee where our community makes decisions about the direction of Aileen’s and other stuff.
  • We’ve helped several women advocate for themselves in dealing with the criminal justice system that unfairly targeted them.
  • We held a baby shower for one of our women at Aileen’s. She gave birth the next day!
  • We’ve applied for a King County grant that would enable us to expand our case management services and provide stipends for peer outreach and leadership development. No guarantees that we’d get it, but keep fingers crossed!
  • Our sister project, System Failure Alert! has launched. This is a way for our community to report our experiences of system failures–failures of and abuses by the systems such as the police, medical providers, social service, and others that are supposed to help us but often end up causing harm–so we can establish patterns of abuse, build power, and hold institutions accountable. See System Failure Alert! website for more information.

That said, we can’t do this without the support of our community. Please continue supporting Aileen’s and our women by making a one-time donation or pledging to become a monthly donor!