Although it’s been serving clients for the past few months, HIPS’ new facility at 906 H St. NE will host a “grand opening” on Thursday.
The local nonprofit provides needle-exchange, counseling, and other vital services to sex workers. It moved from 1309 Rhode Island Ave. NE to its current location after more than 150 donors helped raise over $175,000 in eight months to find and build out a storefront; HIPS has a five-year lease on the 6,510-square-foot space. The grand opening is timed to coincide with D.C.’s Trans Week of Action.
“Because our old space was in a basement, there was very little foot traffic in front of our office,” says Sasanka Jindasa, a manager at HIPS. “We’re up to over 150 contacts per week in this new space. We see that most of our old clients stayed with us but we’ve also gained more people in this new H Street space.”
The new facility features daily support groups, a lunch program, a walk-in needle-exchange program, HIV testing, showers, and a laundry room. The center is “extremely branded,” Jindasa adds, with bright pink signs on its facade bearing the group’s name; still, many HIPS clients find out about the organization through word-of-mouth. In the group’s last space, flooding was common, which made it difficult to have large support groups on-site. Now, clients can watch TV, charge their phones, and socialize without having to worry about water.
Jindasa says support groups typically include between 15 and 20 people and run at least once per day: Some are focused on issues like housing and the law, while others are focused on specific demographics, like trans women, drug users, and sex workers. The organization has client counselors that connect individuals to District services and agencies while offering a safe space.
“There are huge rates of homelessness among the populations we serve,” Jindasa explains. “Having a space where we can bring people from… providers, engaging with advocates in a centrally located space where people feel safe, that’s why we’re here. We were waiting to have this opening until we were fully operational and could show the community what they’ve worked for.”
The event beings Thursday at 4 p.m. with an open house and a reception is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Update 2:28 p.m.: HIPS’s Executive Director Cyndee Clay says the new center will serve as “a one-stop shop” for the organization’s clients, who come from all over D.C. “They tell us transportation is one of the biggest barriers to access to services, and they appreciate a more-central location,” she says.
Screenshot via hips.org