SAFE’s Austin Drop-In Center aids survivors of human trafficking

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Photo Credit: courtesy of HomeAid America | Daily Texan Staff

Texas has the second-highest rate of human trafficking cases reported annually. Now, survivors have somewhere to go.

The SAFE Alliance is a merger between Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace. The new Austin drop-in center is a part of their SAFE CARES program, which stands for Collaboration, Advocacy, Response and Engagement for Survivors. It’s designed to cater to the specific needs of youth survivors of exploitation or trafficking. They will provide services such as survivor support and promotion of a community free from violence and abuse.

For the past year, SAFE CARES has provided resources to survivors through their drop-in center at LifeWorks. A permanent location for the drop-in center was donated by Seton Healthcare Family.

SAFE communications coordinator Emma Rogers said having a physical location gives survivors a safe space to build relationships and meet other survivors.

“We realized that we needed a dedicated program designed specifically for this population of survivors of trafficking,” Rogers said. “We’ve heard anecdotally from survivors that it can be difficult to participate in services if they’re not specifically designed for them and their specific needs.”

The drop-in center offers counseling and communication with advocates who provide crisis response for survivors.

“Many of the advocates are survivors of exploitation themselves, so they know what the survivors have been through,” Rogers said. “They can offer a trusting relationship for survivors who may have had those relationships taken away by traffickers in the past.”

HomeAid, a national provider of housing and resources for the homeless, partnered with SAFE for the renovation of the drop-in center.

Melissa Daly, executive director of HomeAid Austin, said the drop-in center project utilizes local businesses and organizations to help survivors stabilize and move their lives forward.

“Each HomeAid chapter partners with their local builders association, so we’re able to tap into an incredible pool of talent and resources in order to help nonprofits,” Daly said.

The center not only offers resources for survivors of human trafficking, but also creates more awareness of trafficking in Austin.

“Once (trafficking) entered my awareness, … it’s everywhere,” Daly said. “They used to just call it abuse. And now there’s a more specific name for trafficking, and it’s a huge problem, especially in Texas.”

National homebuilder Taylor Morrison managed the project, helping HomeAid construct the Austin center. April Whitaker, president of the company’s Austin division, said this project with HomeAid advances SAFE’s mission to end sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse and domestic violence through prevention, intervention and advocacy for change.

“HomeAid’s mission is to rebuild lives for others through housing and community outreach,” Whitaker said. “With this new project, HomeAid will serve those in need throughout Greater Austin.”

While SAFE has served the Austin community in the past, Whitaker said the drop-in center offers more time and resources to survivors.

“(The center) will be an entry point where survivors of trafficking can rest, get one-on-one counseling in a safe environment and meet with peers going through the same situation,” Whitaker said.