Esther Flores

The Columbus Free Press Libby Award for Community Activism for 2021 honors Esther Flores, born for such a time as this.

Esther Flores is a registered nurse fiercely committed to restoring the dignity and health of women who have been thrust onto the streets of Columbus by sex trafficking, addiction, and domestic violence.  Through her harm-reduction non-profit 1DIVINELINE2HEALTH, she offers support and services to the women she calls “Street Sisters.”  

Esther says, "They are not prostitutes. They are ‘Women Who Haven’t Been Loved Enough.’ “ 

She explains, “They are destitute women discarded by City Hall. In Columbus, housing is unaffordable, which leads to homelessness, which leads to generational trauma, poor health outcomes, food insecurity, so much suffering. Social services are only available 9-to-5, fueling the disparities that deny their basic human rights. A woman sees her body as a commodity to bring the food to her table to feed her children. She is ashamed and self-medicates. She never wanted to become a prostitute. Now she is dependent on a chemical substance. The dope man is not only her provider for a temporary escape, but becomes her pimp if she can't pay for her drug. These are the stories I hear. Columbus’s epic economic inequality is at the root of the Suffering on Sullivant.”

The Establishment's response? Criminalize the victims. In the face of this fake austerity, a deeply rooted endemic attitude that pervades all our public policy, Esther and her organization generously pour out material and spiritual support. She is solution-driven, emphasizing positive actions and the possibility of change, rather than the sad stories of victimhood in her presentations. “Love Heals the Sick, and Love Heals the World” is the motto of the 1DIVINELINE2HEALTH. She exclaims, “I have one mission, and that is to love the hell out of people!” She believes ‘love’ is a verb, and love is transformational. That is why her motif is the butterfly, the symbol of metamorphosis and new life. 

This is no 9-to-5 job.  Esther is out there on the street in a red van decorated with butterflies and empowering words (which the women have named the “Love Bug”) two or three nights a week, passing out food, clothes, Narcan, condoms, and providing much needed wound care, in all four corners of Columbus. Esther also runs the first full-time drop-in center in Franklin County, located on Sullivant Avenue, where she serves hot meals, offers showers and laundry, wound care, and a playroom for the women's children, five days a week!  

She started a Westside community garden (named the "Butterfly Garden") with programming for children including growing plants, a summer camping experience, and arts and crafts. She also runs two safe houses, one on the Westside and another in Linden (with separate accommodations for the  needs of women, trans persons, and sometimes men) for survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and folks in active addiction recovery. She supervises their recovery with random drug tests and collaborative efforts with social service agencies. She intends to expand these services into the Eastside and Southside too, and has a plan on the back burner to provide housing with 24/7, 365-days-a-year support for those released from incarceration or rehab, a necessary service sorely lacking in current community grassroots efforts. 

Esther Flores gets results. She has built up this baby from scratch–in six short years! Her own vision! She is out there, in the trenches, day-in-and-day-out, wearing her signature bandana and Converse All-Stars, and armed with unflagging focus, enthusiasm, and hope.

And this is no job for the faint-hearted. Esther faced her own mortality this year when she confronted two men who were looking to kidnap and rape one of the Street Sisters. “I had a gun with a laser  beaming on me after we had an exchange of words,” she remembers. Esther Speaks Truth To Power (“Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable, baby!”). Significantly, she participated in the protests against police brutality downtown for the murder of Donna Dalton/Castleberry by a police officer (always centering the grieving family), while developing good relationships with other police officers along Sullivant Avenue, including one on her Board of Directors. She battles City Hall Red Tape for funding and zoning permits, and by dogged persistence, has been able to garner the support of the Health Commissioner of Franklin County, Joe Mazzola; the Columbus Health Department (which supplies condoms); Jose Feliciano at PrimaryOne’s Healthcare for the Homeless; and members of the Columbus City Council. She recruits volunteers and community support from social media and friends, but she laments, “ Not many want to volunteer hands-on. They are afraid. The people we serve are gentle, and need socialization–more human contact.”

Needless to say, this is also no job for the fragile. It requires epic resilience to witness such suffering, and Esther’s secret weapon is her deep faith, and the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus.  (OK, not so secret, as the name of her organization is, after all, “1DIVINELINE2HEALTH“!)  She testifies that “Prayer protects me from losing my sanity, and running gives me natural endorphins to fight depression.”  She comforts those she ministers to, and it is love that inspires her tireless in-your-face advocacy for the Least Of These. In short, Esther is a Living Saint and a Woman Warrior, a Love Warrior, a treasure. Her work affirms that the “Street Sisters Lives Matter.” Like her namesake, Esther, she is "born for such a time as this," working to literally save the lives of her people. HER people.

And that is the take-away message of this year’s Libby Award: The Street Sisters are OUR people, a situation in our city, our neighborhoods, here, now, tonight, every night. A situation created not by poor character, but by endemic policies of fake austerity that impose conditions of generational poverty to be endured by women and children, and by our blind eye. It takes a village, and we have chosen to honor Esther Flores this year in order to encourage others in the Free Press community to step up and support this work. 

You can simply donate money on the secure website, or call 614.928.3006, or email to find out about volunteer opportunities large or small. Ongoing hands-on opportunities include donations of soft, sweet, chewy granola bars, or snack packs with chicken or tuna; help in the Butterfly Garden; hot meals for about twenty for the drop-in center; grant writers; clothing donations (size 0-6) and winter wear; toiletries; and a variety of professional contractors to help with property projects. She is also hiring for paid positions of Street Outreach Director and Peer Supporter. 

Esther is all about the love, but remember, Love is as Love does! So please, as we honor Esther Flores with the Libby Award, let’s shower the “Women Who Haven’t Been Loved Enough” with love by pushing that “Donate” button!

Free Press Editor Bob Fitrakis presents the award to Esther in front of her Drop-In house with 1DivineLine2Health Board member Gary Witte and Free Press Board member Winie Wirth. Other photos depict 1DivineLine2Health children working in the community garden and other kid's events.