by Mike Kinney
The second community meeting in two months aimed at battling prostitution and human trafficking on 23rd Street brought dozens of community members to Veterans Memorial Hall Tuesday night.
They were joined by Richmond police officers, representatives of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and various service providers as part of a goal to develop community-inspired solutions to the persistent problem on the merchants’ corridor.
Last month, the community packed Veteran Memorial Hall on 23rd for a forum to discuss the complexity of the issue. Tuesday’s meeting featured interactive workshops gathering ideas on possible solutions.
Meanwhile, Richmond police have been conducting prostitution abatement operations along 23rd Street, although law enforcement officials and community leaders alike believe that’s only part of the solution. A broader effort to improve the corridor for businesses is also underway.
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The overall aim of Tuesday’s community forum was to garner both community input and support in coming up with solutions, said Dana Filkowski, supervising prosecutor of the Contra Costa DA’s domestic violence unit who also sits on the Board of the Contra Costa County Family Justice Center.
“The collaborative approach is really the best approach to handle community situations like this,” Filkowski told us.
Tuesday’s lead moderator Shawn Dunning, a North & East neighborhood resident, helped organize the event and is an expert in conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving processes. He was assisted by 10 support facilitators knowledgeable on the issues of how human trafficking and street prostitution affects the 23rd Street corridor and nearby neighborhoods.
“It’s a very complicated, challenging, emotionally charged issue” that requires community-supported solutions, Dunning said.
Other organizers and participants Tuesday included Jan Mignone, president of the North & East Neighborhood Council president, community advocate David Schoenthal, former Councilmember Vinay Pimple, City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Milam, community organizer Cesar Zepeda, local merchant and community advocate Diego Garcia and Richmond police Det. Fonseca, who works out of the West County Family Justice Center in Richmond, a one-stop center for victims of abuse such as domestic violence or human trafficking.
Pimple noted an increase in prostitution along 23rd that is “also spilling off” into the residential areas.
“It’s close to the high schools and other schools,” he said. “People want to do something about it, it’s a difficult problem. It tends to come in waves, and right now it’s pretty bad, we’re seeing an increase.”
Mignone said it’s not just about making the neighborhood safer for residents and merchants, but also for the victims of prostitution.
“We need to try to get them help and off the streets if we can,” she said. “We can make it a better place for all of us to be.”