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Putting the brakes on the sex trade

Cycling fundraiser Ride for Refuge to support Dignity House

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This article was published 16/09/2014 (3056 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An upcoming bike fundraiser is looking to help break the cycle of prostitution.

The Ride for Refuge, slated for Oct. 4, will support Dignity House, a home for sex-trade workers looking to exit the industry. The ride is operated by Rising Above Ministries, and will take place in a total of 30 Canadian communities to support local initiatives.

Dignity House started up just over two years ago after being founded by director Shona Stewart after meeting Defend Dignity’s Glendyne Gerrard, and finding support from Cornerstone Alliance Church and a home base at Kilcona Park Alliance Church.

Dan Falloon Dignity House director Shona Stewart hopes the upcoming Ride for Refuge will provide a major boost to the organization.

Stewart was in the sex-trade industry for 16 years, but looked to find an exit after returning to Victoria, B.C., to care for her mother. She attended church and found a direction in which she wanted to go.

“I heard he was a forgiving God and one who worked with prostitutes,” Stewart said. “It was always in my heart that when I got out, I wanted to work with prostitutes.

“I had no idea how to get out. You have this label. Is there hope? You have no education or low education and low self-esteem. Once you get out of it, you’re kind of beaten up.”

Stewart found her way out of the industry and then earned two degrees from Briercrest College in Caronport, Sask. and a certificate in counselling. She then started a non-profit within Saskatchewan before meeting Gerrard and becoming connected with Cornerstone, which was interested in starting an initiative like Dignity House.

Dignity House is a three-bedroom house that can take care of four women at a time. Stewart explained that since it is a second-stage house, the women aren’t coming in straight from the street. As space is at a premium, those looking to come into the house are interviewed to get a sense of how motivated the women are to move forward with their lives.

“Because we’re taking care of the housing issue, we can then take a look at the other issues that they have,” Stewart explained, noting addiction, mental health, racism, and poverty are all among the issues incoming women face.

Stewart said those who come in are accepted with the idea of a one-year timeline in mind, though they are treated on a case-by-case basis.

“If they’re being frozen and just afraid to move forward, then you just help them, push them along a little more,” she said. “If they’re really not ready, then no.”

Stewart said Ride for Refuge organizers approached her, as the ride was looking to support an organization working with vulnerable people. Proceeds raised from the ride will help support offset the necessities of life for women in the home.

“It enables us to have the programs running, to have food, to have shelter,” board member Ingrid Truderung, a North Kildonan resident, said. “With us doing the fundraising, Shona doesn’t have to worry about that.”

The Ride for Refuge will begin and end at the Fort Garry Evangelical Mennonite Church (602 Pasadena Ave.). There are 10-kilometre, 25-kilometre, and 50-kilometre ride options.

For more on the event, visit www.rideforrefuge.org and for more on Dignity House, visit www.dignityhouse.ca

dan.falloon@canstarnews.com

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