Neighbors and police say they've noticed a substantial increase in prostitutes in the past three to four years along busy 23rd Street in Richmond where there is a mix of small businesses and homes.
On Wednesday night, Richmond police and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office hosted a community forum with about 100 people in attendance to address neighbors' concerns and find solutions.
Neighbors say 23rd Street at Garvin has long been a hot spot for sex workers and merchants say the problem has escalated and the presence of prostitutes is disrupting business.
"People stop coming when they see this activity," said Sergio Rios, owner of Bob's Cleaners.
He says he's been in business along 23rd Street for 14 years.
"Even in the morning, there's prostitutes coming around, at noon , at different hours when the kids are coming from the schoool," said Rios.
Police investigators say the shutdown of social media sites such as RedBook, commonly used by sex workers, has contributed to the increase in prostitutes walking the street.
"The size and scope and persistence of this problem really does require us to to re-look, re-think, get more people at the table and more voices involved," said Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown.
One of the voices at the table during the forum is Joleen Reutlinger, a self-described former prostitute who posted photos of herself online to solicit business.
"I was on RedBook. I had about 2 million views on RedBook," said Reutlinger.
She said when RedBook shut down four years ago, she turned to walking the 23rd Street corridor. She said it was her last resort.
"I was only making enough to get a room and maybe a pack of cigarettes and something to eat because it was horrible," said Reutlinger.
She said the lure of easy money was an addiction. She now hopes sharing her experience will give a voice to other women in similar situations.
"Prostitutes aren't just ladies of the night. They're women who are broken. They need healing," said Reutlinger.
Neighbors said they welcome the recent increased police presence, but know that there is no easy solutions.
"It's really bad. It feels uncomfortable," said Rios.
Police said they will use community input to find new strategies to fight an age old problem.
They said they will be focussing on prevention and helping women find resources to get out of prostitution.