Savior of Last Resort

A hardened businesswoman takes to the streets to help prostitutes save themselves

On a still night beneath Biscayne Boulevard's sagging palm trees and dull streetlights near 54th Street, Heather Klinker offers redemption in the form of size-three blue jeans.

About 8:30 p.m. the 40-year-old Colorado native sees two young prostitutes by the side of the road. Krissy, a pale blond 33-year-old, and Lacey, a stick-thin brunette in a rubber dress, are trolling for customers with their eyes, staring down another night of leering faces. Klinker, a former rodeo rider, swings her faded red Saab convertible around and screeches to a halt. In the back seat her dog, Bula, scrambles to stay upright. Dressed in jeans and a denim work shirt, she saunters over to the women like some kind of avenging cowgirl savior.

"Hey," Klinker drawls. "Can I talk to you a minute? Don't worry, I'm not a cop."

Heather Klinker hopes to make some changes in the lives of the desperate
Steve Satterwhite
Heather Klinker hopes to make some changes in the lives of the desperate

The girls eye her warily, but they allow her to approach. That's all the invitation Klinker needs. She describes a shop called Good & Funky that she and some friends opened in late October. All the clothes in the purple-walled place at 3509 NE Second Ave. and 35th Street, as well as coffeepots, furniture, and books, are free to hookers who want to quit drugs and enter a rehab program. Klinker also makes appointments at clinics, gives rides, finds apartments, and does whatever is needed to right a life upended.

The nascent effort is a rare outreach program aimed at getting drug-addicted hookers off the streets. During her nocturnal rounds, Klinker has started gentle negotiations with at least ten women who have expressed interest in seeking help. Miami Police Ofcr. Gregory Bavonese, who has been monitoring prostitutes on Biscayne Boulevard for fifteen years, hasn't heard of Klinker's program. But it sounds like a good idea, he says. "In terms of going out there and contacting [hookers], I don't know of any agencies that do that," Bavonese remarks. "Hey, if this woman's starting something, and it works, it may be a place I could send people to."

Klinker is trying to make it work tonight. She softly pitches both Krissy and Lacey, hoping some of her words will sink in. Lacey is too tweaked to pay attention. She twists and turns so much she looks as though she's trying to squirm out of her dress. She's been up six days doing drugs, she explains, proudly adding the non sequitur, "I'm a juvenile. I'm seventeen." Then she waves to a passing car and wanders off.

But Krissy stays, her bloodshot eyes wide at the prospect of getting some clean clothes and maybe placing a phone call to her father.

"You got jeans there, really? And I can have them? Size three or four?" she sputters. "Wow, this is what I need. I just need some help, y'know? Do you have coffee? I know if I called my daddy everything would be okay." She's been on the streets about a month, ever since life just kind of snowballed on her, she explains. It's the heroin. She's down to three bags a day, she says, enough to prevent nausea. Her habit costs $30 per day. It might not sound like a lot of money, but "it is if you don't have it," Krissy laments. "That's why I started doing this."

She lost her clothes a couple of weeks ago, when she didn't pay on time for a room at a flophouse, she says. Then she put herself up for sale on the boulevard. She used to sell car parts. "I was good at it," she mumbles.

"Come by," Heather says calmly, while handing Krissy one business card and stuffing another into the bedraggled girl's shirt pocket. "We can help you."

"Are you kidding? I'm gonna be there in the morning," Krissy says excitedly.

Back in the Saab, Klinker muses: "I hope we can help her. It could be a different story in the morning. She's gonna need that first bag of dope and then we'll see if she'll call."

Klinker, a big-boned woman with a ruddy face and short hair, is new at this. Until September she was a sales director for the Alexander Luxury Hotel on the Beach, earning a $50,000 annual salary. That job capped twenty years of work in the resort industry. Two decades of taking clients out for dinner and drinks may be a shaky foundation for a career on the streets, she admits. Hanging out with hopeless women night after night can knock the fight out of the sturdiest folks.

But Klinker figures she knows something about bouncing back. For ten years she was a hard-core alcoholic. Her habit was so bad she'd wake up in the middle of the night needing a beer just to go back to sleep. She'd guzzle a six-pack on her way home from work. "That's one beer every four miles," she points out. She consumed 30 drinks a day, morning to night. She was what's called a maintenance drinker. "I tell ya, if I wasn't off the sauce, I'd be one of them," she says, referring to the prostitutes she has met. "Except I'd be the old, fat, lesbian hooker out there not making any money."

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