Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Nonprofit assisting trafficking victims ceases shelter intakes while transitioning to new, larger site with long-term housing

A volunteer working with a pair of A Safe Place clients during a time management class at the end of October. (courtesy, A Safe Place)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A local nonprofit organization has plans to purchase a larger facility and expand its housing program, as its current shelter goes on the market. As such, it also will not be sheltering new clients for the time being, though it will pay to house them elsewhere.

Kathleen Peters, director of charitable giving for A Safe Space, said the expansion has been part of the nonprofit’s end goal for years and became closer to reality when the nonprofit found an ideal new location. A Safe Space will go from operating in a single home on less than an acre to a larger facility on 11 acres. 

The old property is listed for roughly $600,000 and will cover costs of the move, expected to take place in January if all goes according to plan. (Both facilities are at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of victims.)

A Nov. 9 email to a long list of donors, partner organizations and other nonprofits, obtained by Port City Daily, was signed by A Safe Space executive director Dawn Ferrer, explaining the organization is not onboarding new intakes but is offering its other services through the transition. A Safe Place assists human trafficking survivors by offering housing, outreach and education programs to prevent exploitation. 

“Regarding calls to our 24/7 hotline, we will continue to respond to individuals in need and respond to law enforcement calls,” Ferrer wrote. “We will do our best to find safe housing for survivors until we are able to begin intakes at our new crisis shelter.”

Peters said, in the meantime, the organization is paying for current? clients’ temporary housing off site. 

The organization opened its doors in 2012 and took in its first client after the FBI referred a teen mother who had been trafficked for three years. Today, the emergency shelter, which opened in 2018, houses 12 survivors. People staying at the shelter can receive individual psychotherapy and participate in support groups.

Peters told PCD the new location will be able to house double its current capacity and offer long-term housing up to two years compared to the existing limit of two months. She added the staff has always wanted to make the jump to long-term housing.

“We’ve found that 60 days is just not long enough to make a change,” Peters said. “It might be long enough to be sober for 60 days, but it’s really hard once they are out of our program.”

Many survivors of trafficking are facing “significant trauma,” Peter said, often compounded by substance use disorder. “On top of that, you have mental health concerns,” she said, which makes recovery a longer process. 

In response to the shortcomings of brief shelter stays, the organization created its supportive housing program. A Safe Place provides financial assistance so survivors can stay at a recovery house and continue to receive financial support after they are ready to live independently.

“It was positive, but it wasn’t giving the long-term benefit we always hope for with the survivors we work with,” Peters said.

She said the cost of housing is often a barrier that keeps clients from getting employment that pays them enough to live independently.

“That’s a real obstacle, so the longer we can help them the more they can save so they’re set up for success,” Peters said. “It can become an endless cycle of coming to us, relapsing when they leave, ending up back in ‘the life’ and coming back a few months later. We want to end that cycle.”

Peters noted the organization is keeping one of its effective hallmarks of the housing program: offering help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“One of the hard things about trafficking or exploitation situations is having the opportunity to leave, and that often can happen in the middle of the night, and we want to be available for them,” Peters said.

Once the new shelter is up and running, the nonprofit will build even more housing. Exactly how much the site will be able to accommodate and when comes down to planning and fundraising. Architectural plans have not been created yet, Peters said.

Two new staff members also will be needed, with more hires anticipated as the program expands.

A Safe Place took in $1 million in 2021, up almost $200,000 from the year prior. Almost all of its income comes from grants and donations. The largest part of its funding was $502,000 from the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission, followed by $399,000 from individual grantors and foundations.

Among its local donors are the Fox Charitable Foundation and the Landfall Foundation. The organization has also accepted gifts from the Renaissance Charitable Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization which manages charitable giving for philanthropists, and Thrift 2 Gift, a program of Seeds of Mustard Ministries in Cary.

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