Whether they have been enslaved for a few months or for many years, trafficking victims need a place that provides security and comfort for both physical and emotional healing. There is a great need for long-term safe housing for trafficking victims: New York City alone has reported nearly 2,000 cases of sex and labor trafficking in the past 10 years. LifeWay Network’s Safe Housing Program is one of only two programs in the New York metro area providing safe housing specifically for women survivors of human trafficking and the only one that offers safe housing for both domestic and foreign-born survivors of labor and sex trafficking. Our programming is survivor-informed, so we continually adapt our offerings and structure based on feedback from our residents and alumnae.
Our Safe Housing Program is a critical aspect of our work to combat human trafficking. We’ve offered short-term emergency stays to survivors since 2009 and have been operating long-term transitional safe houses since 2012, granting harbor to almost 80 women thus far. These houses are not just basic shelters; they’re homes where survivors live in community and are provided with the resources they need to rebuild their lives.
From Fear to Safety: How Our Program Works
Women survivors are referred to us by service provider partners, who ensure that each of our guests receives the necessary government services to begin her journey to independence. When a woman arrives, she is welcomed into a supportive, caring environment that helps her continue along that journey through education, social services, and community life. Our goal is to give each woman who passes through our doors the tools to remake her life into one marked by growth and a sense of self-worth instead of isolation and trauma.
Three women religious form a host community and live with the women at the safe house. A full-time house manager and part-time social worker provide further support necessary for recuperation. Each survivor works with a case manager from the referring agency, who connects her to services to help her address the impact of her traumatic experiences and prepare her for a self-sufficient future. These services might include legal assistance, medical and mental health care, and job skills training.
Many of the residents attend school or work during this time, and have access to tutoring from LifeWay Network volunteers. Therapeutic activities such as arts and crafts, gardening, and movie nights provide much-needed respite and opportunity for personal expression and enrichment. Birthdays and cultural holidays are joyously celebrated and day trips and weekend vacations are planned for a change of scenery. All of our residents are encouraged to develop the foundations for a professional skill set and a rich inner life during their time with us.
After about a year, most women are ready to make their transition to a more independent life. This leave-taking is a time to celebrate each woman’s journey toward reclaiming her life. Each resident is given a hand-knitted afghan by one of our many volunteers as a tangible symbol of her connection to LifeWay Network. Residents stay in touch with the safe house staff and host communities, and are welcomed back for holidays and subsequent leave-taking celebrations. Many of our former residents are anti-trafficking activists, thereby continuing the healing cycle.
Emergency Safe Spaces
Along with our longer-term transitional housing, LifeWay Network provides two beds for short-term emergency safe housing. During this period, which may range from days to weeks, a needs assessment is conducted by a case management provider and a plan is made for a long-term living arrangement, which may include referral to LifeWay House.