Recent headlines in Pittsburgh have highlighted the crucial need for emergency housing and the intensive trauma care needed by sex trafficking survivors.
When an intensive investigation ended a sex trafficking scheme, the Western District of PA U.S. Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Taskforce reached out to Theresa Golden, executive director of the soon-to-be-launched Refuge for Women Emergency House Pittsburgh. The need: emergency housing for a survivor of the horrific situation that involved more than a dozen victims. But with the Pittsburgh home not yet operational, the best that Theresa could do was refer this woman to another organization.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 paused the services offered at the Ohio Valley Refuge for Women home that had served the Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia tri-state area since 2019. Because all the need was coming from the Pittsburgh area, and 90% of the calls were for emergency housing situations, it was an easy decision to relocate to Pittsburgh and to relaunch as an emergency house as soon as funding could be secured.
It’s expected that more victims from this latest scenario will also need emergency housing and intensive treatment. The type of care and treatment the national Refuge for Women organization has been providing for more than ten years. Services that the Pittsburgh area desperately needs.
While there are several organizations in the area that work with women in these situations, the overall resources are very limited. While some provide clothing, food, toiletries, and a referral to counselors as well as possibly a day or two in a hotel, they do not offer residential housing, nor do they address the specific emotional and therapeutic needs of trafficking survivors. While a few organizations can provide long-term housing, the wait for admission spans days to weeks, leaving the women no immediate escape from their desperate situation. Other choices include homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters that can provide safety but lack the intensive trauma care that a sex trafficking survivor needs.
“This is why we need a Refuge for Women Emergency Home in Pittsburgh,” states Theresa emphatically. “But we need the community’s support to help get our local home open!”
While a facility has been secured, volunteers and financial resources remain crucial needs. Purchased in December 2021, a beautiful three-story home with a full basement, ten bedrooms, and nine bathrooms is nearly ready to welcome women in need of emergency housing. “We are blessed beyond belief to have found this building.” The executive director beams when she describes the well-cared-for home with a long history of supporting women and people in the community. A home perfectly suited to Refuge for Women’s mission of offering hope and healing to survivors of trafficking and sex exploitation.
How will the Refuge for Women Emergency Home Pittsburgh differ from other facilities in the area? Women will be admitted directly from the streets into a residential home with a trained staff available 24/7 to provide crucial around-the-clock guidance. Their evidence-based, trauma-informed program is designed to deal specifically with the types of trauma associated with being exploited or trafficked. A licensed therapist and a registered nurse will assist with mental health and medical needs while social workers, a case manager, and other support team members will round out the staff.
“We will start with opening the emergency home and progress through to add long-term housing, transitional housing, and our social enterprise ‘Survivor Made’ to the Pittsburgh location. This will provide a two-year continuum of care for the women completely free of charge.”
In early 2020, Pittsburgh was named one of the top 10 cities in the country for human trafficking. This “hidden crime” is aided by the city’s many, easily accessible modes of transportation as well as the large sporting events hosted by the city’s three major sports teams. The recent tragic situation shines a glaring light on the depths that sex trafficking can take and further highlights the crucial need for intensive, emergency services in this area.
You can stay up to date on ways to be involved as the Pittsburgh team marches toward opening day this fall or early winter. Consider a room sponsorship as a special way for individuals, churches, organizations, and businesses to become involved with the women who will get a fresh start in this home.