“I’m yours,” I whispered as you held me close, keeping me safe from everything crashing down in my world.
“You’re mine,” you whispered as you gripped my arms painfully, showing me off to their hungry, glinting eyes.
And so it begins. For many, as young as age 12-14. Boy, girl, transgender—it doesn’t matter. Sex trafficking exists. Across the country and around the world. And as an ocean port community, the Twin Ports has a long and dark history with sexual trafficking. As public outrage has gotten louder, local, state and national authorities have begun to respond in new, more effective ways.
Sex trafficking isn’t in the public eye all that often, despite the coverage in the media. For youth, it’s played out on websites like BackPage and Craigslist. Looking at Life House’s internal numbers, 18% of our youth report unwanted sexual contact; 4% report exchanging sex for food or a place to sleep—and those numbers, we know, are grossly underreported because the questions are asked of youth the first time they come to Life House.
Our Safe Harbor Program was created in response to the implementation of the Safe Harbor Act in August 2014 (in which youth who were involved in prostitution were redefined from “criminal” to “victim”)—though we started the application process for licenses and certifications in January 2014. We were prepared, then, in August 2014 to partner with Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women and PAVSA to create a 2-bed shelter program for sex trafficked youth ages 11-17. Trafficked youth in the region would be able to stay there for 90 days. A safe place. The first step for youth coming out of a sexually exploitive situation.
A shelter, however, is a short-term solution…and youth under the age of 18 still had no place to go in Duluth for long-term housing and the trauma support he or she needed. The Safe Harbor Shelter Program was only a first step, and we knew that Life House needed to be able to provide these youth with more support over a longer duration. Life House needed a housing based solution.
As we explored options we had discussions with One Roof Community Housing, a Duluth-based nonprofit that buys and renovates distressed properties. In no time, One Roof had purchased a fantastic house, completely renovated it for our needs, and offered Life House a 5-year lease. Sol House.
The five-bedroom house provides a private bedroom for up to five teens and has around-the-clock staffing. While living on-site, the youth have access to all of the services from Life House, including education, mental health therapy, and life training skills. All of Life House’s services are grant- and donation-funded, so all costs are covered for our youth—absolutely free.
The symbol for Sol House is a lion—fierce energetic, able. In ancient texts, the lion was the symbol of a new day. Today, the lion is a symbol for everything these youth have overcome and everything they will accomplish in the future.
At Sol House, five trafficked, sexually exploited youth have a place to call home–for the next two years if need be. They are in an empowering environment with a compassionate staff that is helping them leave the life behind and move forward, helping them unleash their inner lion.
– Shannon Hoffman, Development Director, Life House
The mission of Life House is to reconnect homeless and street youth to their dreams. Our vision is that no youth will be left homeless, alone, uncared for, or fending for themselves on the streets.