In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many assistance programs are struggling to meet the needs of the community, especially as they face unprecedented long term affects due to a shortage in monetary giving and volunteer limitations.
However, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach is heartened to celebrate a tremendous grant awarded to the Anti-Human Trafficking/Bakhita Empowerment Program, which operates out of the St. Francis Center in Riviera Beach.
Awarded by the Office for Victims of Crimes, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, the three-year grant will fund the Anti-Human Trafficking/Bakhita Empowerment Program with $494,667 to support the housing needs of victims of human trafficking. Housing assistance provided through this grant includes 6-24 months of rental assistance and/or placement in transitional housing through partners at the Salvation Army Palm Beach County Area Command and Village of Hope.
“Since 2017, our Bakhita Empowerment Program has provided long-term intensive case management to help survivors obtain self-sufficiency,” wrote Marketing and Fundraising manager Courtney Tellier
in a statement released by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach. “The goal of this award is to provide safe, stable housing to victims of human trafficking and support their self-sufficiency goals.”
The Anti-Human Trafficking/Bakhita Empowerment Program aids victims of all types of trafficking within Palm Beach County. This assistance includes intensive case management, emotional support, safety planning, and advocacy. Catholic Charities participates in the Palm Beach County Human Trafficking Task Force, which is co-led by Palm Beach Victims Services and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office to enhance collaboration of service providers, law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sandra Perez, program administrator, expressed her eagerness to put the grant to good use. “This is the first grant we have received for transitional housing for our clients,” she said. “It is an unexpected blessing for us and the victims of trafficking, whom we support every day.”
Perez explained that a Catholic Charities case manager typically coordinates a wide range of services a victim of human trafficking might require. These include housing referrals, legal services, medical services, repatriation, reunification, counseling services, education and employment services, translation services, substance abuse services, dental services and branding (tattoo) removal.
Victims are provided with basic needs and financial assistance to help them create a life away from their trafficker. Case managers also provide transportation to appointments and assist with replacing documentation often lost/stolen while they were trafficked.
“In order to allow for most of the funding to go directly to housing assistance for victims, all responsibilities associated with implementation of this grant will be absorbed by the already existing staff of our Bakhita Empowerment Program,” continued Tellier in her statement.
Hazel Matic, a victim advocate for the program, emphasized what a “huge deal” this is for the program, particularly because Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach does not own a permanent housing facility for clients. Matic shared that they work to secure landlords who will rent to program clients out of compassion or take a referral from a program case manager.
“Housing is our biggest struggle when it comes to helping victims of human trafficking transition into society,” she said. “If you ask a victim why they stayed with their trafficker for so long, they will tell you it’s because they had no where else to go. This grant will provide clients with the means to live in a proper home while they find work or go to school. This is important in giving them a sense of dignity.”
To learn more about the Anti-Human Trafficking/Bakhita Empowerment Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach, visit ccdpb.org/programs/anti-human-trafficking or call (561) 345-2000. Follow the organization on Facebook @CatholicCharitiesPB.
In addition to thanking the Salvation Army Palm Beach County Area Command and Village of Hope for their partnership, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach would like to express its gratitude to the following organizations for providing letters of support for this grant application:
Indian River Sheriff’s Office
St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office
Martin County Sheriff’s Office
Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
United States Council of Catholic Bishops
Florida State Attorney’s Office
Human Trafficking Coalition of Treasure Coast
Human Trafficking Coalition of Palm Beach
New Horizons Mental Health
COVID-19 has changed the face of giving for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach. With events being the main way of raising money, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach have had to get creative in the way that it fundraises for its programs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need has never been greater for programs who serve the poorest in our community. Online giving can be a one-time donation or in small increments given monthly. If you would like to make a donation, please visit ccdpb.org/donate or call 561-775-9567.