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Vernon  

Broken, beaten and bruised

When Angie Lohr thinks back on some of her worst nights, she goes silent. They aren't memories she likes to remember.

"I don't like to talk about that because there were many nights," she said. "They're all ugly and they all stand out. It is too ugly."

Angie, 58, is the founder of H.O.P.E. Outreach, a nighttime outreach for homeless and exploited women in Kelowna and Vernon, specifically in the downtown areas.

Angie spent 13 years working as a prostitute, addicted to crack and cocaine. She lived the crime-filled "street life" until she woke up one cold January morning in 2002 wanting to change; needing to change.

Through Angie’s lens, we are able to get a clearer picture of what life is like for street workers.

Angie's story proves that a slip through the cracks can happen to anyone.

At the age of 28, she was thriving. 

Angie had two degrees, a well-paying career, a husband and more importantly, she had a life: "An amazing life," she says.

Things spiralled downhill quickly. 

She isn't sure when her exact breaking point was, or what caused her to try cocaine for the first time, but what she does remember is after the first time the drug entered her bloodstream she was addicted in an instant.

"I led a pretty normal life kind of tripped on coke," she said. "Everyone was doing it; doctors, lawyers, it took so many people down," she said reflecting on her addiction.

"I knew I had a problem... I hooked up with dealers just to get free coke."

Counselling never crossed Angie's mind, she thought she could leave the drug without any outside support.

But, eventually, her thirst for cocaine outweighed her will to recover.

"The beast had risen again," she said.

"Nobody wants to talk about it, it's like the boogie man is behind you," Angie admits. "No one confronted me, no one intervened, they all ran in the other direction."

She started using, a lot.  So much, she started selling her body for cash.

Angie ended up living on the streets and did anything it took to have a roof over her head for a night.

"It was terribly scary but looking back I can see how strong a will to survive is."

Angie's addiction starting costing her about a grand a day.

"I was getting together with big dealers and just doing sexual favours or rich guys with a lot of money, you'd get all the coke you wanted from them if you did what they want."

She was doing everything in her power to feed her addiction.

She started to steal, and was arrested more times then she could count, but she stole because she didn't want to have sex with strangers.

She eventually moved back to Winnipeg, and with the support from her family and friends, she got clean.

It took her about a year to become sober.

In 2006 Angie married her now-husband Bill and they moved to Kelowna.

She wanted to help other women who were struggling with addiction and have lives similar to the hard life she once lived.

Seven nights a week, at dusk, H.O.P.E volunteers walk the streets of downtown while providing the women they encounter with supports.

"They haven't had parents that guided them, they haven't had morals instilled, they haven't had housing and jobs," Angie said. "No situation is the same."

Angie says between 25 to 30 women, on any given night in both Kelowna and Vernon, are selling their bodies for cash, to either feed their addiction or to put food on the table.

"Once you have gone through so much that you are on the street, you actually think that's where you are supposed to be."

It's not easy for Angie to see women going through a similar situation to hers, but she feels she is destined to help, guide and hopefully lead them down a better path.

"There are a couple girls on the street that have been terribly assaulted. Their self-esteem is so low they don't think they deserve any help," she explained.

"They go into the hospital they're judged; they're judged by the whole community."

Beaten and bruised women come back to H.O.P.E. Outreach almost daily, Angie explains, "It's a free for all, the guys [johns] all think that too."

"They can't get it anywhere else," she said.  "It's like 'let's just pick this vagina up off the street and do what I want with her."

The women she sees, suffer horrific abuse from men regularly.

Of one woman, Angie said: "Half of her jaw was 90 degrees facing the other way, she can barely eat anything. She just sucks it up and I guess it's just part of her day, punched in the face. It's just, kick the dog to the curb." 

No woman should ever have to consider abuse normal, says Angie. But women in the sex trade are almost used to being beaten. 

"It's horrific that you would beat on vulnerable people," she said. "It just blows my mind that's the psychotic state people are in."

People forget to think about how some of these people ended up on the streets, Angie explains, everyone has a different story.

"When we talk about addicts and prostitutes, the eyes start rolling," she said. "Unless you are in a field that helps these people, nobody gives a shit."

For one woman Angie deals with, she almost never had a chance.

"She did heroin for the first time when she was 10-years-old," Angie said. "Her older sister gave it to her so she didn't have to babysit."

Others on the streets, they are just trying to make ends meet.

"Not everyone uses, there are some girls just trying to put food on the table, put their kids through school, put themselves through school."

Angie is hoping that by sharing her story and the stories shared by others, people might start to understand that the woman you see on the street corner, didn't want to end up there. 

"Most people judge it because they aren't educated, they wonder why people are out there or if it's self-afflicted."

Angie just asks people think twice before passing judgement.

"I can't see it getting any better unless we make a stand in this country," she said. "We are not protecting the women the way we should be."

"If you have an idea someone is using you need to intervene," Angie says. Because, oh my God, maybe I would have stopped, maybe I would have sought help sooner."



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