Here’s our recap of the Des Moines City Council meeting held on Thursday night, Sept. 28, 2023:
Genesis Project Presentation
The Des Moines Human Resources budget allocates monetary support for the Genesis Project, a program that has been helping women escape a life of prostitution since 2009. The Project works with many other organizations, including SCORE, to give women another option and provide support when they decide they are ready for a new life. The Project offers hope, providing trauma therapy, legal services, help with housing, and even clothing.
Deputy Andy Connor, who has served for 22 years with the King County Sheriff’s Office, founded the Genesis Project 14 years ago. Before this, prostitution was thought of, by both the police and the public, as a victimless crime. “Johns” would give testimony against prostitutes, who were considered the criminals.
That way of looking at it has been turned on its head in recent years however, as more people realize that prostitutes generally enter into the lifestyle unwillingly through “fraud, force, or coercion” according to Deputy Connor, and most can not just walk away. According to the presentation, 42% of sex workers are pushed into prostitution by a family member, and the average age of entry is 13. Often, a “boyfriend/romeo” pimp will trick girls into a relationship before forcing them into prostitution. Drugs are also pushed on girls as a way of making them dependent. Sometimes, photos or videos of sex work will be used to blackmail women, keeping them trapped in the trade for fear of their families seeing the evidence.
One of the presenters spoke of how her young daughter was tricked into prostitution by a “boyfriend”, and the Genesis Project worked with her for several years to help her get free and stay out of sex slavery. Her daughter now advocates for women to seek help, speaking at FBI training events as well as on podcasts about forced sex workers.
Deputy Connor explained that Pacific Highway has a long history as a prostitution hub, and the problem has skyrocketed in the last five years. He said the Seattle region is a hotspot for illegal prostitution, ranking in the top 5 metropolitan areas in the country. Many of the Johns busted over the years were in town either for sporting events or conferences with Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon. Worldwide, he said, the sex trade nets nearly $1 billion per year.
Covid 19 greatly reduced the ability of the Genesis Project to hold fundraising events, and they are just picking up again. Council voted to give $500 to the Project from the Hearts & Minds Fund.
Lighthouse Northwest Presentation
This local non-profit helps women and children coming out of domestic violence situations to thrive in a safe and supportive environment. According to the presentation by the program’s executive director, a victim of domestic violence herself, 1-in-3 women will experience physical abuse at some point. Children who grow up in a violent home are more likely to repeat the learned pattern of behavior.
Lighthouse Northwest services include Sacha’s House, a community living program that provides residences for up to three families at a time. One woman wrote of her experience there, “This is the safest place I’ve ever been in my life.” Eventually, graduates of the program transition to independent housing.
Lighthouse also holds community meetings, open to any woman who has experienced trauma. They have two meetings per month, and start each meeting with a shared dinner. There is currently a waitlist for a new meeting group that will be starting soon; the waitlist includes 29 Des Moines residents, as well as others from the surrounding area.
Lighthouse Northwest holds an annual 5K run & walk, in partnership with Des Moines Creek Parkrun. The 5K will be on Saturday October 14th, with an afterparty at the Quarterdeck.
According to City Manager Michael Matthias, the city plans to take out a $25 million bond in October, but assured council that Des Moines has received nearly the highest possible bond rating. The independent organization said, “the city’s local economy will continue to trend positively”. Matthias said the high rating makes the city’s investments effectively cost less than they would have with a lower rating. Mayor Matt Mahoney said this was very positive and affirming.
City Manager Matthias also spoke about the four fatalities so far this year at the SCORE jail. He said one death was a drug overdose, two were natural causes, and one is under active investigation. In addition, SCORE staff were able to rescue four overdoses with lifesaving measures. He said that these are the kinds of things all jails are facing, and that SCORE is doing a great job.
Proactive Enforcement in Parks
According to Police Chief Tim Gately, there have been a rise in reports of suspicious activities in parks. Police are responding with a heightened presence in these areas, where they will practice zero tolerance.
Homicide Suspects in Custody
Chief Gately also addressed the homicide that occurred in July, in the north Safeway parking lot. He said the case has been under active investigation for months, with three suspects involved. Two have been in custody but the third was hard to locate. A $2 million arrest warrant was issued, and the final suspect was found during a traffic stop. He is currently being interviewed by police.
Recology Contract Updates, Bills to Increase
Recology is switching to a Fixed Annual Charge (FAC) which will show up on each residential bill in 2024. The charge will be around $1 to $2 for the average residential customer with a 32 gallon trash bin. Smaller bins will have a lower fee. The FAC is supposed to only cover actual usage, and any over- or undercharge will be reflected in a lower or higher charge the following year. This coincides with a 9.6% rate increase for the service in 2024. According to the presentation, many cities are facing a much steeper rate increase but Des Moines was able to negotiate early and lock in a better rate.