Dreamcatcher Foundation Helps Prostitutes Turn Lives Around

Former prostitutes develop bonds with women still on the street, tries to find them help

Brenda Myers Powell has a standard opening line: "Hey punkin' you need some condoms?" That's her entree to the women she is hoping to help get off the street.

Myers Powell and her partner, Stephanie Daniels, created the Dreamcatcher Foundation. They hit the streets on the south and west sides of the city as well as those of Cicero -- really anywhere there is prostitution.

They ride in a large white van with the name Dreamcatcher Foundation on the side. The offer of condoms is just a way to make a connection. They also hand out cards and hope for a call.

Myers Powell, a prostitute for 25 years, and Daniels, a 20 year drug addict who at times prostituted to support her habit, feel their backgrounds make them credible to the women they are trying to help.

"We're not here to to judge them," Daniels says. "We're here to offer them hope and encouragement in the event they want to stop."

Marie Miller, 30, was one of those women who wanted to stop. She is a former prostitute Dreamcatcher Foundation rescued in October.

"They gave me hope and a new family," Miller said.

On a Friday night last month, Miller rolled along with Myers Powell on an outreach ride.

It was our second ride in three months, and between the two missions we got a firsthand look at the need for this outreach, wrapped in the story of a girl we'll call Rose. We're not using her real name to protect her identity.

We first saw Rose on our ride in May. Myers Powell jumped into action with her standard offer of condoms and then, with the kind of rapport that gains an instant response, Myers Powell says "all the girls know me. I used to work right here."

After some back and forth, Rose says she's happy to have met Myers Powell and appreciates what she is doing.

"It means a lot to me that somebody out here helping the girls," Rose says. "A lot of people out here on drugs and they need some help."

Three months later, we meet Rose again, and she appears to be one of the people who needs help.

"I'm just out here on the street, nowhere to go," Rose says, scratching herself and looking agitated. "I'm just bad, getting high, all type of stuff"

Myers Powell senses Rose is in trouble.

"What I need for you to do is make a decision if you want to go with me," she tells her.

After some coaxing Rose comes along. On the ride we learn that she's 22 years old and has been on the streets, of and on, since she was 16. She says she's been taking crack and heroin and had been smoking for hours that night.

"I'm just hearing stuff, seeing stuff. I don't know if it's real," she said.

Myers Powell jumps on the phone to find a detox bed but none are available. There are also no beds in the city specifically for prostituted women.

"We're out here and it's one o'clock in the morning and a girl says I'm ready and she's in a bad situation and there are no beds," said a frustrated Myers Powell.

A 2013 national survey by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority found there are only 12 beds in the entire state of Illinois for women who are prostituted or trafficked. It also found there are only four beds for victims over 21, and they're all in Springfield.

Because Rose was hallucinating, Myers Powell took her to Mt. Sinai hospital where Rose voluntarily checked herself in to the psychiatric ward.

In the seven years Dreamcatcher Foundation has worked on its outreach mission, Myers Powell and Daniels say they have rescued 74 women from prostitution and come in contact with more than 2,000, by giving them condoms or business cards.

But, Dreamcatcher Foundation's primary goal is to build a residential crisis center. They're currently fundraising to reach that goal.

"It takes a village to help these girls, so we need a village to help us," Myers Powell says.

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