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Supportive Housing for Trafficking Survivors with a Substance Use Disorder

By Dawn Ferrer, ED of A Safe Place to Go in Wilmington, NC

For a trafficking survivor, having safe, stable, affordable housing options are vital to their healing. If you have a survivor with a substance use disorder, the need for structured supportive housing can mean the difference between returning to “the life” and staying on a path to recovery. The hope for providing supportive housing to these trafficking survivors is to increase recovery rates by offering continued case management with specific program requirements and collaboration with community partners.

Chelsea (name has been changed) came to the Emergency Shelter at A Safe Place because she was in a trafficking crisis situation, and she had returned to substance use. Her trafficker used physical violence and substances to keep her in the exploitive situation, so a safe living environment was a priority. During her stay at the Emergency Shelter, direct support staff explained to Chelsea she had the option to participate in the Supportive Housing Program. A Safe Place would pay for a designated time period at an approved recovery house and her first month’s rent once she was ready for independent living. Chelsea agreed to find employment and to stay on a positive path to recovery.

A Safe Place recognized the need for a supportive housing program due to the number of our members returning to “the life” because of their substance use. The opioid epidemic was the impetus for hiring a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) in 2018 to work with members on identifying triggers and finding positive coping strategies so they do not return to substance use. However, we continued to see our members return to substance use because they did not have the financial resources to transition into a structured recovery house program. Some returned to the life or another unsafe living situation or chose independent living with no structure which proved to be difficult for someone in early recovery. A Safe Place believed financing supportive housing for a certain time period would help members stay on a path to recovery.

In the summer of 2021, A Safe Place secured grant funding and created the Supportive Housing Program. The program is offered to any active member who participates for a minimum of 60 days, either at the Outreach Center or the Emergency Shelter. Members are required to secure employment and save a percentage of their paycheck to put toward supportive housing. An application is completed to request supportive housing at an approved recovery house and the member must agree to the following:

· Meet with case manager, therapist and CADC once a week and attend 2 groups per month at the Outreach Center

· Stay at the Recovery House for a minimum of 4-6 months

· Agree to not leave the recovery house for independent living until the case manager, CADC and the recovery house agree the member is ready for this transition

· Help the case manager find permanent housing once it is determined the member is ready for independent living.

· Follow all program requirements at the recovery house

A Safe Place evaluates the progress of members in the Supportive Housing Program at 4 months, 6 months, 9 months and 1 year and monitors their recovery once the member transitions to independent living.

As of January 2022, all members participating in this program had not returned to substance use and continue to meet all program requirements. Chelsea is employed full time and continues to participate at the Outreach Center. She meets with the therapist and CADC weekly and provides updates on her progress. After 6 months at the recovery house, she will be evaluated for independent living and A Safe Place will help her with her first month’s rent and her security deposit. A Safe Place is hopeful our Supportive Housing Program provides the necessary link to help our members not be pulled back into substance use and an unsafe living situation. In addition, A Safe Place refers our members to important community partners because we understand it “takes a village” to help a survivor fully heal.

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