Several non-profit groups are working together to establish a safe house for survivors of human trafficking and York Region has agreed to provide staff resources to help make it happen.
The group is proposing a service hub where human trafficking survivors could access specialized crisis housing. Representative Carol Wildgoose pitched the concept to York Region council today, Jan. 26, with councillors agreeing to have staff work on the business plan, location and explore funding options to support the $19-million capital proposal.
Wildgoose said existing shelters are not well equipped to meet the needs of trafficking survivors. There are only six such specialized beds in the region provided by 360°kids.
“York Region is sadly lacking in the provision of care for girls and young women who have experienced the unthinkable,” Wildgoose said. “Without adequate support, they may return to their trafficker as a roof over their head, as some supports are better than nothing.”
The proposed service would have a $20-million annual operating budget. It would have two residential pods with six survivors each, along with three crisis beds separate from the main living section. There would also be space for counselling, fitness, therapy and a service hub to help survivors navigate health, education and legal issues.
Wildgoose listed several organizations that are partnering for the proposal, including York Regional Police, Victim Services York Region, Women’s Support Network of York Region, 360°kids, Sandgate Women’s Shelter of York Region and Safe Hope Home.
York Region community and health services commissioner Katherine Chislett said trafficking victims can access emergency shelters, but the facilities are not the best suited for them.
“Shelters are not the best solution in this circumstance. It’s not safe for the victim. It is not safe for the people who are also in the shelter,” she said.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said much like with housing, York Region needs non-profits to step up for projects like this. He said it makes sense for the region to lend its expertise to help a project like this get further along.
“We know we can’t do all the work alone,” Taylor said. “This is actually a really appropriate role for us, to lean in and try to help.”
Wildgoose said approximately 146 to 185 trafficking survivors are served in York Region annually. She said a service hub like this could save public costs elsewhere with other services.
“By partnering with us, we can realize millions of dollars of savings to society, but most importantly, provide the support that is clearly owed to those victims of an unthinkable crime that our society has not yet been able to address.”