Being close to an international border comes with serious challenges. For Niagara, its proximity to the U.S. border makes it an epicentre for human trafficking, with Niagara ranking among the top five Canadian communities for the crime. Furthermore, 75-80 per cent of human trafficking victims come through the Golden Horseshoe.
It’s a harrowing infamy underscoring the need for support locally for those escaping such a life. Enter Safer House, a residential program run by the YWCA of Niagara for women and gender-diverse individuals bravely embarking on a life free from the harm inflicted by their traffickers.
With the help of a $100,000 grant from the David S. Howes Fund, the YWCA hired a support worker to help those living at Safer House to access community resources, attend appointments, and tap into other supports to start moving forward with their lives.
“Sometimes women who are coming into the program don’t feel safe going into the community so having a staff member with them helps them feel safe,” said Elisabeth Zimmerman, YWCA executive director. “These are people who have experienced a great deal of trauma and are trying to rebuild their lives.”
Safer House residents can stay as long as they need. In addition to connecting with community resources, some reconnect with their families after being socially isolated and controlled by their traffickers. Others learn how to live independently or move on to other programs depending on their needs.
“It was a critical grant for us in terms of having a well-rounded program and we’ve made it very clear the importance of the role for the success of our participants,” Zimmerman said. “We have a very strong success rate.”
Additionally, the YWCA received $36,000 from the Howes Fund to purchase furniture and appliances for the common room and offices at its new location on Oakdale Avenue in St. Catharines. Now the organization can use the space to its full potential, including hosting workshops, staff meetings, celebrations, and food preparation for its shelters.