ORLANDO, Fla. — Approximately half of the human trafficking survivors who sought shelter or longer-term housing in a safehouse in Florida last year, were right here in Central Florida.
Reporting by 9 Investigates led to legislation passing last year to finally put those homes under a set of standards and scrutiny. Now, a state survey is breaking down how many people are being helped here and what gaps still need to be filled.
The survey revealed there are more residential programs for human trafficking survivors here in Central Florida than any other part of the state, including Orange County’s crisis shelter, which saw more women over the course of a year than any other facility statewide.
The numbers are sobering. In just one year, approximately 200 human trafficking survivors were helped through safehouses or an emergency shelter in Central Florida, which is at least half the number served in the entire state.
“It was really kind of incredible to see what we do have,” Tomas Lares said. An expert in human trafficking, Lares is the co-chair of the state working group recommending best practices to DCF leaders for the certification process.
Lares gathered the data on behalf of the state, and the survey revealed more than half of long-term safehouse beds in Florida are in Orange or Seminole County, a stark contrast from what existed just a decade ago.
“We would place survivors in domestic violence shelters at that time,” Lares said.
The new rules for safehouses will include higher-leveled background checks for staff and volunteers, and Lares is recommending that survivors not be asked to fundraise or tell their stories to help organizations fundraise. The standards are intended to protect survivors without burdening organizations.
“We have the opportunity to be the first state to have these certifications and to be the gold standard,” Lares said. “Other states have been reaching out… so it’s really exciting that Florida is the first and we’re kind of leading the way,” Lares said.
The Department of Children and Families will oversee the safehouses under the new rules. Lares says a press conference in Tallahassee is scheduled for next week to lay everything out.FROM WFTV9