TORONTO, Jan. 29, 2015 - With the launch of the city's first specialized, longer-term housing program, young, female victims of sex trafficking will find critically needed support to rebuild their lives, according to Covenant House Toronto, which will operate the new facility.
The community-based residential program with wraparound services is the first step in the agency's plan to combat sex trafficking with initiatives, including crisis intervention and prevention through public awareness. As the country's largest agency for homeless youth, Covenant House has offered help to victims for more than 30 years.
"This is largely a domestic issue and we are now seeing dozens of sex-trafficked victims annually, most of whom are local young women," Bruce Rivers, Covenant House Executive Director, said. "We also estimate that as many as 1,000 of our youth are involved in some form of the sex trade annually, mostly trading sex for survival. Their desperation makes them highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation for profit."
(From left to right) Toronto Community Housing's President and CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn, Councillor Ana Bailão, Covenant House's Executive Director Bruce Rivers
"We know that homeless youth are targeted by predators and we also know that unsuspecting young girls in schools, malls and online are also lured into this kind of sex slavery," Rivers adds. "We are launching our housing program as the first step in a concerted effort to do more to tackle this vicious and unacceptable crime."
Mayor John Tory, Toronto Community Housing Interim President and CEO Greg Spearn, Toronto Police Deputy Chief Mark Saunders and Marg Stanowski of The Rotary Club of Toronto's Women's Initiatives Committee were among special guests who lent their support to the plan at today's announcement at the downtown agency.
"I'm proud that the City of Toronto is working with Toronto Community Housing and Covenant House to create a sanctuary for young women who have been victimized by human traffickers," Mayor Tory said. "I particularly want to thank Councillor Ana Bailão, whom I recently appointed the City's Housing Advocate, for her significant efforts in bringing this initiative to life."
The program which will house up to seven residents, aged 16 to 24, at a time is the result of a partnership between Covenant House, The Rotary Club of Toronto's Women's Initiatives Committee, Toronto Community Housing and the City of Toronto.
Under the agreement, Toronto Community Housing will lease a property to Covenant House for 15 years at a nominal rent, while Covenant House will fund all ongoing operating and maintenance costs. The city has agreed to provide capital funding for repairs and renovations to the location to be completed in the coming months. To ensure the privacy of residents, the location will remain confidential.
"This partnership is another example of our city building role and how, through partnerships, we are contributing to a greater city," says Greg Spearn, President and CEO (Interim), Toronto Community Housing. "By working together, we can achieve our vision of better homes, better neighbourhoods, and a better Toronto for all."
(From left to right) Toronto Community Housing's President and CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn, Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Mark Saunders, and Mayor John Tory
Through the leadership of the Women's Initiatives Committee, and relying on the extensive expertise of Wendy Leaver, a former Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit detective, community consultations were held to help develop the plan, including the assessment of programs in other Canadian cities.
"This is a very proud day for The Rotary Club of Toronto's Women's Initiatives Committee," says Marg Stanowski, who provided early leadership on the Committee in prioritizing this complex and often-neglected community issue. "Over the past four years, we remained steadfast in our commitment to help build the awareness, support and partnerships to establish this facility for sexually exploited, young female victims. Standing here with Covenant House Toronto, Toronto Community Housing and the City of Toronto reinforces how local collaborations like these can turn a vision into a true reality."
Program residents, who can stay for up to two years, will receive transformational support, including trauma and addiction counselling, life skills training and educational and vocational support. Free legal assistance will also be available from the firm of Baker & McKenzie and legal aid through Justice for Children and Youth for those who choose to seek justice through the courts.
As Canada's largest homeless youth agency, Covenant House Toronto changes lives by providing the widest range of services and support under one roof. More than a place to stay, it provides 24/7 crisis shelter and transitional housing on-site and in the community along with comprehensive services, including education, counselling, health care, employment assistance, job training and aftercare. Last year, the agency served almost 3,000 youth.