April 15, 2022
The Honorable Nancy Skinner
Chair, Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee California State Senate
Sacramento, CA 95814
The Honorable Sydney Kamlager Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee 4 California State Senate
Sacramento, CA 95814
The Honorable Phil Ting
Chair, Assembly Budget Committee California State Assembly Sacramento, CA 95814
The Honorable Wendy Carrillo
Chair, Assembly Budget Subcommittee 4 California State Assembly
Sacramento, CA 95814
Subject: Support Decrim Sex Work California Coalition’s Request for Sex Worker Housing as Healthcare Pilot
Dear Budget Leaders: We write to respectfully request your support for Decrim Sex Work California Coalition’s housing as healthcare pilot program for unhoused and housing insecure current and former sex workers. Specifically, we are asking for:
• $147 million in one-time General Fund money for a pilot program to support five to ten housing programs for unhoused and housing insecure current and former sex workers that includes connections to culturally competent services for these populations. The funds would be from the 2022-23 budget but be spent over 5 years and would be split among programs selected for demonstrated need and regional diversity. The money would be dispersed to organizations that provide housing programs to reduce and prevent homelessness among current and former sex workers. Funds would be targeted to help all sex workers especially those who are at higher risk of violence and have less access to services.
• $9 million for the Department of Healthcare Services to administer and evaluate the program.
People who trade sex in a broad array of contexts face stigma and discrimination. This results in their marginalization and lack of access to basic human needs. They deserve to be healthy and safe, and housing is an essential element to ensuring this becomes a reality. While housing and houselessness is an issue across California, current and former sex workers are especially impacted populations with less access to housing resources due to discriminatory and punitive policies and practices. Housing is crucial for connecting people to needed physical and mental healthcare and other services, is a violence prevention measure, and is the biggest unmet need for many people in the sex trades. Sex workers also frequently face discrimination when trying to access other services, like healthcare, professional development, banking, and legal services. When these barriers compound with housing insecurity, it can be especially difficult for people to maintain connections to vital services. People who trade sex need more culturally competent service providers and safe, secure housing.
Unfortunately, houselessness rates are especially high for sex workers. According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, there were estimated 161,548 unhoused people on any given day in California as of January 2020,about 0.4% of the state’s population. About half of people in the sex trades have experienced houselessness, and a 2018 survey found that 79% of the sex workers surveyed listed housing as their most immediate need. One survey found that nearly half of transgender sex workers had experienced houselessness, while nearly 40% had been denied access to a shelter.5 That study also found that “[w]hen trying to access homeless shelters, transgender people in the sex trade were twice as likely to experience mistreatment” as transgender people not engaged in sex trades.6 Some unhoused people do sex work to meet basic survival needs when they have no other options (“survival sex work”). A 2013 study found that 8% of the unhoused 18-21 year-olds in the study had engaged in survival sex work7 and that “[s]helter was the number one commodity traded in return for sexual activity.”8 About one in five transgender people nationally have done sex work at some point,9 oftentimes “to earn income or as an alternative to relying on homeless shelters and food banks” after facing high levels of poverty and discrimination.10
Many people working in the sex trades – whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion – have historically survived on the margins due to the compound effects of stigma, criminalization, racism, xenophobia and transphobia. In California, Black and Latinx transgender, gender non- conforming and cisgender street-based sex workers experience disproportionate policing, and as a result are more likely to have criminal records and to face barriers to accessing healthcare, housing, and other public benefits. Many sex workers are undocumented, survivors of interpersonal and state violence, and/or monolingual in a language other than English, resulting in increased discrimination and decreased access to resources. Individuals who are currently or were formerly in sex trades are at high risk of eviction and are sometimes forced to take on high risk aggressive and/or exploitative clients in order to obtain shelter for themselves and their families and loved ones.
These programs will be based on proven Housing First and harm reduction models that do not predicate assistance on desisting from sex work or the use of drugs and alcohol.22 When people are housed, they can better take care of other needs, and studies show that after housing is provided, dangerous drug and alcohol use diminishes, and the conditions that lead to arrest for sex work are greatly reduced. Housing First models are also more cost-effective than other means of providing housing and services: “One study found an average cost savings on emergency services of $31,545 per person housed in a Housing First program over the course of two years. Another study showed that a Housing First program could cost up to $23,000 less per consumer per year than a shelter program.” A portion of the money awarded to each pilot program may be used for operational costs. Organizations eligible to receive funds through this program must be community-based organizations that have sex workers in leadership and/or a values statement or mission that affirms the rights of people engaged in sex work and/or other organizations who have a demonstrated commitment to:
● serving transgender and gender non-conforming sex workers and sex workers of color; ● work with unhoused and/or system-involved and impacted transitional aged youth;
● people who are unhoused or facing housing insecurity;
● immigrant and/or undocumented sex workers;
● provide harm reduction services to people who use substances;
● provide inclusive and affirming community-based services to transgender, gender non-
conforming, intersex, LGBQ people, and people living with HIV/AIDS; and who provide community-centered sexual and reproductive health care to communities of color, including HIV/AIDS prevention and outreach.
Priority would be given to organizations lead by sex workers with lived experience with housing insecurity.
Additionally, we request $9 million for the Department of Healthcare Services to administer and evaluate the program, including creating a regionally diverse Program Development Advisory Board consisting of 10 individuals:
● at least two of whom are current or former sex workers, at least one of whom has experience doing street-based sex work
● at least two of whom are unhoused or formerly unhoused
● at least one representative of organizations that are led by current or former sex workers
22 Sharon McDonald. “Why Housing First? Why Not Housing Second? Or Third?” National Alliance to End Homelessness. June 2019. https://endhomelessness.org/why-housing-first-why-not-housing-second-or-third/. 23 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Deploy Housing First Systemwide.” August 2018. https://www.usich.gov/solutions/housing/housing-first/.
24 National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Housing First.” April 2016. https://endhomelessness.org/resource/housing-first/.
According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, a “Housing First system orientation recognizes that people experiencing homelessness…need the
safety and stability of a home in order to best address challenges and pursue opportunities.”
● at least one person who works in public health in related fields and have a demonstrated history of working in partnership with sex worker communities
● at least one outreach worker who works with street-based sex workers
● at least one person who has a demonstrated history of working with houselessness or
housing insecure populations
We strongly encourage the inclusion of this important pilot program in this year’s budget. If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Becca Cramer-Mowder with ACLU California Action at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 824-3256.
ACCESS Reproductive Justice ACLU California Action Advocating Opportunity
All Family Legal
Anti Police-Terror Project
Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN)
Best Practices Policy Project
Break The Binary LLC
California Latinas for Reproductive Justice
California Nurse-Midwives Association
California Women’s Law Center
Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research (CLEAR) Coalition on Homelessness
Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking
Decriminalize Sex Work
Decriminalize Sex Work California Coalition
Drug Policy Alliance
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
End the Epidemics
Free Speech Coalition
Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction
Legal Aid at Work
Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition
Los Angeles LGBT Center
Mental Health First
Positive Women’s Network-USA
Reframe Health and Justice
Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles
Sex Workers Outreach Project SacramentoStrippers United
SWOP Behind Bars
The Gubbio Project
The Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center The Transgender District
The TransLatin@ Coalition
URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity Woodhull Freedom Foundation
CC: Assemblymember Kalra Senator Wiener