Offering help for street workers
Harry Walker knows how dangerous street prostitutes' lives can be. He used to be one himself.
Now 33, he started having sex for money at the age of 14. With his father dead and his mother struggling to put food on the table, Mr Walker hit the streets to earn some cash for his family.
"You do what you have to do," he says.
It is that history which will help him make a difference in the lives of street sex workers, the Mangere Bridge resident reckons.
He is launching a new outreach programme for them as part of his advocacy service Choices Forward.
Mr Walker will be out and about in Hunters Corner two nights a week, providing the street workers with condom packs, information and support.
It is intended as an extension of the work of the late Mama Tere Strickland, who died in 2012 at the age of 49.
The renowned sex worker advocate made a "huge difference" in the lives of many prostitutes, Mr Walker included.
She took him in when he finished a prison sentence in 2004 and showed him a way out of the sex industry, he says.
At that time he identified as a transgender woman and support was hard to come by.
"My family didn't know how to deal with me.
"It was one thing for me to say I was a gay man but being transgender was something they had absolutely no understanding of. Mama gave me a roof, she gave me a job."
Mr Walker no longer identifies as transgender but says his experiences will resonate with many of the street prostitutes working in South Auckland.
"The girls are not going to take a bar of it unless you've been there.
"I know what that life entails, I know what they get into."
His focus won't be on stopping street prostitution - "I don't have a magic wand" - but ensuring the workers' safety.
And that should have flow-on effects to Papatoetoe residents because the streets will become safer for them too, he says.
New Zealand AIDS Foundation executive director Shaun Robinson says the work Mr Walker is doing is extremely important.
Transgender women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection so it is vital that they have access to condoms and safe sex information, Mr Robinson says.
The foundation is providing Mr Walker with condom packs to distribute.
"The more condoms we can have out there, the more we can get the message out of loving your condom, the better the health of the whole community is going to be."
Mr Walker is encouraging sex workers to contact him if they need help or advice. Email harry.walker9@ gmail.com or call 022 150 0947.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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