COMMUNITY worker Yvonne Hutchinson has a new role helping prostitutes escape street life.
The Ferndale woman is using her “chaotic” life experience to help others achieve their aspirations.
She meets prostitutes on the streets through her work at Cathedral House, plus she’s landed a new role with Leeds-based charity Joanna, which helps women wanting to leave prostitution.
Yvonne, 46, said: “I’ve been volunteering in Huddersfield for about eight months, we go out into what is the red light area in Huddersfield, talk to the girls, give them hot drinks and sandwiches and talk if they want to.
“I talk to them about their ambitions and aspirations – the majority of women who go out there feel they have no choice but they do.
“In Huddersfield some nights we could see 12 or 13 girls, some nights it’s three.
“It’s interesting because what happens in other parts of West Yorkshire has an impact on neighbouring towns, if there’s police work in Bradford the girls might come into Huddersfield or Leeds.”
Yvonne says girls aged 17 are turning to prostitution and she hopes her work will let them see there is an alternative.
Yvonne is no stranger to overcoming adversity – she spent time in a children’s home, got pregnant aged 17 and her son Paul, now 28, was raised by Yvonne and her mother Olivia until he was ten.
Until the age of 25 Yvonne rebelled, but she turned her life around and decided to use her time to give back to the wider community. She was the chair of the Ferndale Residents Association, campaigning for improvements for residents and was integral in securing a crossing on a busy road.
She’s still on the board but is focusing on helping young women and says tackling their drug addiction is the best place to start.
“I’d say around 95% of the girls have addiction problems and they’re on the streets to fund that,” she added. “There is not enough help available, everyone is struggling with their problems.”
Yvonne focuses on the street workers, but says women trafficked and so-called high-class escorts are, for now, beyond their reach.
“I’m in this for the long-haul, it’s two steps forward and one and a half steps back sometimes.
“I’ve helped them in practical ways, taking them to clinics or rehab.”
And while Yvonne recognises she might be seen as a “do-gooder” she adds: “This is society’s problem, it has an impact on schools, the girls might have children in care and they may be affected by it. It impacts the health and social services, they might rob a shop and the police have to deal with it – the impact on society is massive so it’s everybody’s problem and concern to get these girls off the streets.
“Don’t blame the girls – they may be the victim of something much bigger.”
Yvonne hasn’t quite left behind her community work, she’s still on the board of the Deighton and Brackenhall Initiative. So why does she do it?
“I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but my faith is one reason. If it wasn’t for that and people helping me and believing in me then wouldn’t I be able to help other people.
“A big percentage of the girls who are prostitutes have been in the care system, which I do understand, but at the heart of it I believe that if you can make a difference then you should do.”
Yvonne admits her younger self would not recognise, or like, what she is today, but she added: “I got myself sorted, I ran my own consultancy, and if I can do that anyone can.”