Project RENEW poised for big impact

Prostitution is a difficult subject to talk about. It’s even harder to do something about as the Rhode Island General Assembly has proven again this year. But as our legislators tried and failed to act, a remarkable program (and, we are proud to say, Cause & Effect client) called Project RENEW has shown that sometimes the compassionate response is also the most effective and efficient solution to our community’s problem with prostitution.

To get the quick story check out this 5-minute video: 

Project RENEW: Transforming Women and A Neighborhood,

The video was made by my colleague and friend David Goldenberg as part of our recent program assessment and planning work with RENEW .

The Pawtucket Police give Project RENEW, a program of the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation, most of the credit for a remarkable reduction in visible on-street prostitution, prostitution arrests and calls for service in the Barton Street neighborhood. Rethinking Arrest–Street Prostitution and Public Policy from Nick Horton at the Family Life Center identifies Project RENEW as the most promising model for diverting women from generally useless and very costly incarceration into alternative supports that help women tackle the fundamental problems that drive them into prostitution: poverty, mental illness and addiction, among others.

One lesson we learned was highlighted by the debate over prostitution laws in Rhode Island this year. No one knows a lot about this topic. A lot of people draw sweeping conclusions from brief peeks into one corner of the vast and very diverse universe of sex for pay (and sex for shelter, drugs, etc.). That’s why one major element of the new three-year program plan we helped Project RENEW create focuses on building capacity to gather and share lessons from their own program experience and from the life experience and wisdom of the women they help.

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