TurnAround Inc., a rape crisis center for Baltimore City and Baltimore County, has partnered with the YWCA of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County to open a safe house for children who are victims of human trafficking. The safe house will be located in Anne Arundel County and will serve kids from across the state.

“Kids who have experienced sex trafficking are very traumatized and need a lot of specialized services, and a safe place to go,” said Jean E. Henningsen, TurnAround Inc.’s senior director of strategic initiatives.

TurnAround Inc. needs funding to ensure the safe house can service victims continuously. The organizations secured $500,000 in the state budget last year toward starting the program but they will not receive that again this year due to the budget landscape in the state, according to Henningsen.

“We are increasingly concerned about securing the resources necessary to operate the house. We estimate it will cost about $1.5 million annually,” Henningsen said.

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The organizations received $5 million to construct the state’s only dedicated facility to provide safe housing for child victims of human trafficking. Funding is needed for long-term staff, equipment and operations, so the facility can open and begin serving survivors. An earmark for the shelter is pending in Congress.

Amanda Rodriguez, TurnAround Inc.’s executive director, said “everybody on paper is onboard” with the planned safe house but she acknowledged that “the funding piece is a concern for us.”

“And so that’s why we ultimately want to start working on trying again,” she said.

The two organizations are engaging private foundations to bridge the funding gap. Once the facility obtains licensing from the Department of Human Services, funding concerns may be alleviated, although the timing remains uncertain.

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The house will have residential counselors, clinical staff, social workers and other trained professionals equipped to deal with victims of trafficking. Children ages 13-17 can be served and receive comprehensive care. The goal is to be open and serving victims in March.

“This facility will save lives,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman told The Baltimore Banner. “It provides a safe space for children to heal and access vital resources all in one place.”

The need for a facility became clear when the YWCA of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County was working on another project looking for gaps in services. One of the obvious gaps was homes and sheltering for trafficked children, according to Rodriguez.

Maryland is a hot spot for trafficking, with its location along the Interstate 95 corridor and proximity to multiple international airports, numerous train and bus stations, and rest stops. Traffickers are known to use the state’s transportation infrastructure to move survivors in and out of major cities throughout the East Coast, Henningsen said.

TurnAround’s data shows that 99% of the survivors served are from Maryland and 82% are from Baltimore and Howard counties. From June 2013 to June 2023, more than 1,000 reports of child sex trafficking were screened by the Maryland Department of Social Services Child Protective Services screening units.

TurnAround Inc. provides comprehensive services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking in Baltimore County and Baltimore City. The organization opened in 1978. In 2011, TurnAround became the first comprehensive provider of human trafficking services in the state, Rodriguez said.