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In solidarity with the Blue Heart Campaign that is committed to stopping human trafficking, the US Area in February is promoting awareness of Tamar’s Place, a sponsored ministry that provides hospitality for women struggling with the disease of addiction and engaged in prostitution. Founded in June 2010, Tamar’s Place is located in Cincinnati. Tamar’s Place Director Sr. Grace Pleiman responded to questions about the ministry posed by Estelle McNair, Director of Franciscan Haircuts for the Poor, also a sponsored ministry in Cincinnati.


tp 01Many in Cincinnati are familiar with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor through their hospital system and social service centers. Why were the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor interested in creating Tamar’s Place?

When the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor became aware of the need to help women in prostitution, we came together as a group and discussed the issue. The Sisters forged ahead, trusting that like our foundress, Mother Frances Schervier, we were helping women in need. Mother Frances took into the convent women who were working as prostitutes—to feed them, teach them job skills, and give them a change of lifestyle.

As the director of Tamar’s Place, you play a critical role in the program. What does an average morning look like for you?

I’m at Tamar’s Place everyday. I open at 7:00 am until 12:00 pm, and it’s rare that I am not there. I have one volunteer per day who works with me. Everyday I receive the women and I ask them about their needs, which are basically for food and clothing. If needed, I give the women clean socks and underwear, and there is a private bathroom for women’s use only. They can lock the door to feel safe and freshen up. Most of my day is spent talking with the women, listening to them and, when they are ready, helping them to go to addiction centers, such as the Center for Addiction Treatment or shelters like Off the Streets. When a woman is arrested, I visit her in jail and counsel her.

How do the women hear about Tamar’s Place?

When we began Tamar’s Place, it was the middle of summer so we walked the street passing out bottles of water with our ministry card attached. The word got around and the women started coming to the center. One of the first women who came to Tamar’s asked us boldly if we were former prostitutes. I laughed and said, “No. No.” The woman looked confused and asked why we would do this for her and others. I simply said: “Because we care about you.” She told everyone about us and that’s how the word really spread. The women saw that we were trustworthy, and word spread like wildfire. Recently, one woman said to me: “If you didn’t care about us, who would?” This comment is a gift to our Sisters from the women who are truly grateful to Tamar’s Place.

How many women does Tamar’s Place serve a day?

It varies from 2 to 7 a day. When the women are with us, they rest. Some eat snacks, and we let them talk about themselves if they want. We don’t pressure them to leave prostitution. We provide food, rest, counsel, and referral services. When women first came to Tamar’s Place, many told us that they would never change. Many women thought that they were going to die on the streets either by gunshot or from a drug overdose. They could not see a decent future for themselves. Gradually, they began to see something different: the possibility of change.

Who helps you and the women at Tamar’s Place?

Our wonderful volunteers come every week, on a specific day, at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until noon to serve the women refreshments, offer them toiletries, clothing, supportive counseling, and most especially, welcome them without judgment to rest, relax, and be refreshed at Tamar’s.

tp 02How did Tamar’s celebrate its 5th anniversary in 2015?

Tamar’s hosted an anniversary dinner at St. Clare Convent for Sisters, volunteers, and some of our recovered women. After dining on a meal of spaghetti and homemade meatballs prepared by convent Chef Bill Lawrence, I provided an overview of Tamar’s history and ministry, which was followed by testimonies from two of Tamar’s recovered women. At the dinner, we recognized our volunteers: Sisters Adelaide Link, Mary Lawrence Vanderburg, and Karen Hartman; Associates Sarah Hellmann who paints with the women every Thursday, and Nancy Smith and Pam Rouster who also do outreach with the women in recovery; wonderful Joanne Fiorini and student Charlotte Zureick came that whole first summer during a break from social work studies at the University of Cincinnati; and Carolyn Dawson who heard about us in the very beginning from Sr. Bonnie Steinlage while getting a haircut at Franciscan Haircuts From the Heart. Carolyn, who has been in recovery for 5 ½ years, is our best advocate as the women know she’s “been there.” That first year through December 2010 we saw 56 individual women with over 400 revisits from them. I would be remiss not to mention Sr. Joanne Schuster who negotiated our rent with our first site, New Prospect Baptist Church, and also the late Sr. Arlene McGowan and her contribution to Tamar’s, in particular incorporating us under Franciscan Ministries.

What is an example of a success story of one of the women?

We currently have 10 women in recovery. Beth, one of our best success stories, came for a visit recently. She said what impressed her most about the program was that I wasn’t the typical Catholic Sister, because I was really interested in them and I got involved with them as people and as women. So when Beth went to jail the last time, she was really sure that she was going to quit. She was scared but said, “I have to change.” Tamar’s Place got her into Off the Streets and she learned the 12 steps and goes to meetings. Tamar’s gave Beth a safe place and the support she needed to change her life.

tp 03How does Tamar’s Place help to reduce prostitution and trafficking?

We talk about the possibility of change, that there is hope. We spread that message to the women, to the public, and to the agencies who know us. Tamar’s Place propels women to change. I visit the women who are in jail or prison. I write to them when they are incarcerated and send them stamped envelopes so that they can write us. We stay connected with these women and that helps with their recovery.

What is Tamar’s greatest practical need?

Financial support is always needed to buy supplies and pay for rent.

Where is Tamar’s Place located?

We are located currently in Philippus United Church of Christ in the Cincinnati neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine. Philippus Church is a wonderful, warm organization. Our space is not very large, but it is sufficient for our needs and the women like coming to a church. When Estelle McNair, now the Director of Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart, first moved to Cincinnati, she volunteered at an agency called “Stop Aids” where the women were allowed to get a cup of coffee in the morning. When that practice was discontinued, Estelle approached Sr. Joanne Schuster to ask whether the Sisters might do something for women in prostitution in Over the Rhine. While we Sisters were discussing, discerning, and praying, Estelle was looking for a place for us. It happened that New Baptist Church owned a building that they were using only on weekends. We stayed there three years until the church sold the building. We were offered another place that was renovated for us, and then knowing that that second site was far for the women to walk to, we moved to Philippus Church.

Drug addiction is having a devastating impact in Cincinnati. Can you tell us how addiction causes prostitution among women?

The women we work with use prostitution to support their addiction. They are compelled to prostitute to support their drug habits. Addiction is an epidemic everywhere, but a person can change. And when that person finds recovery, she can spread change. Every recovered person does a little good in reducing the negative impact that drugs have in our community. The biggest hurdle to recovery is that these women need the opportunity to change. Tamar’s Place gives them a solid place to stand.

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Tamar’s Place Annual Statistics

1,100 visits by women to Tamar’s Place
65 visits to women in jail
10 women currently in recovery

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tamarsplace.org

www.franciscanministriesinc.org

Published: April, 5, 2016