Street Outreach in Tennessee: Thistle Farms' Impact
Thistles can grow anywhere. We say that a lot around here when folks ask, "Why the thistle?". And it's because thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Thistle Farms have walked. They have a deep root that can shoot through concrete and survive drought. They are resilient and vibrant, paralleling the survival and flourishing of the women we serve.
Thistle Farms' Street Outreach Initiatives
Because we know this to be true, Thistle Farms actively seeks out thistles in all the places they grow through our Street Outreach program. Residential staff regularly spends time seeking out women who are impacted by prostitution, trafficking, and addiction.
"This program is all about planting seeds and just meeting women where they are," said Hallie Weidner, Street Outreach Program Coordinator. “It’s as simple as handing out bags, handing out our cards, and saying, ‘When you’re ready, give us a call. We’ll come pick you up.’"
The goal is to provide resources and immediate assistance to women in high traffic, high risk areas. The Street Outreach team offers hygiene bags, condoms, and food. They also share Thistle Farms' program details and nationwide referrals.
*1999: Thistle Farms Graduate, Regina, helps conduct Street Outreach in Nashville
Harm Reduction in Action
Community partnerships are also vital to this outreach. The team collaborates with donors, including Kroger and Publix, securing gift cards for sack lunches. They also maintain robust partnerships with Street Works and Stars. Together, they prioritize harm reduction strategies using techniques like needle exchanges and NARCAN training. Additionally, they distribute fentanyl test strips. These proactive steps help women in active addiction envision a future with Thistle Farms.
In 2023 so far, we've handed out 53 hygiene bags and 89 lunches while having conversations with women on the street.
Meeting Women Where They Are
But something unexpected is the impact of a 2020 law in Tennessee, making it a felony to camp on public land. The legislation has created a situation where the previously known spots where trafficked women could be found are ever changing, since housing insecurity often goes hand-in-hand with prostitution. Our partnership with the Metro Homeless Impact Division helps us to conduct outreach in encampments, but the law overall has pushed things further underground, making it difficult to reach the very women we seek to serve.
And on top of those challenges are those you would expect to face when working with women who are being trafficked. Pimps and johns keeping a watchful eye from a distance, or drug deals that could pose a safety threat to all involved.
Despite these obstacles, the ultimate hope is for the program to continue growing. One potential on the horizon is a mobile drop-in center. This would allow Thistle Farms' Residential Team to provide more services to more women more consistently, without having to rely on community partners to fill the gaps.
There is always an opportunity to do more. Street Outreach remains a vital piece of the organization’s Residential Program, helping to spread awareness and extend invitations. Together we keep the candle lit for all the women we encounter so she can cross our threshold when she’s ready.