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Breaking Free to close sex victim housing months after it opened

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A St. Paul nonprofit has decided to shut a housing shelter for teen victims of sex trafficking and exploitation just months after it opened.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A St. Paul nonprofit has decided to shut a housing shelter for teen victims of sex trafficking and exploitation just months after it opened.
Breaking Free said this week that it received less than half of its original funding request from the state to run Jerry’s Place on the East Side. But a state agency said Friday that Breaking Free knew the funding amount a year before it opened.
Breaking Free’s original two-year request for shelter and housing funds from the Safe Harbor Minnesota program was for $531,420, and the state awarded it $256,000 for that period, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The department sent the group an award letter in September 2013, DHS said, and Jerry’s Place opened in October.
Vednita Carter, Breaking Free’s founder and executive director, wrote this week: “Breaking Free received less than half of our original request from the Safe Harbor housing program to support Jerry’s Place. This funding does not allow us to maintain the number of staff needed to ensure the safety and well-being of the young residents in the house without utilizing staff members from our women’s and permanent housing programs.
“Keeping Jerry’s Place fiscally operational and fully staffed has been cutting into Breaking Free’s funding for our core programming for victims of sex trafficking and exploitation, which includes adult and juvenile victims.”
Breaking Free staffers weren’t available Friday to answer questions about the funding, according to a spokeswoman.
Carter is in Haiti on a humanitarian aid trip, bringing medical supplies and offering expertise to develop programs to assist sex-trafficking victims there, according to Breaking Free.
The state’s Safe Harbor Law involving sexually exploited youth passed in 2011, but two changes took effect in August: Minors hired for sex are no longer charged with a crime, and resources were made available for sexually exploited youth, including housing and shelter.
For the 2014-15 biennium, $1.5 million was available for Safe Harbor shelter and housing, and there were four grantees, including Breaking Free, according to DHS.
After the 2014 Legislature appropriated an additional $500,000 for the state housing program, Breaking Free requested an additional $54,576, a DHS spokeswoman said. DHS said it didn’t award the additional funds because Breaking Free hadn’t spent enough of its current funds.
The grants are not awarded as a lump sum. Organizations request reimbursement for what they’ve spent. As of Friday, Breaking Free has requested $68,420 for Jerry’s Place, which is 27 percent of its total grant amount for the biennium, according to DHS.
Jerry’s Place, named for St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald D. Vick, was intended to house four girls at a time and is currently home to a 17-year-old and three 16-year-olds, said Katie Tuione, Breaking Free’s housing director. Breaking Free has operational funds for Jerry’s Place until mid-March, Tuione said.
Assistant Human Services Commissioner Jim Koppel said in a statement Friday, “We are very concerned about the closure because we need to have safe housing and services for these young victims of sex trafficking. “
Breaking Free is working with the girls’ families to reunite them or to find other housing, Tuione said.
When Breaking Free opened Jerry’s Place, it said the girls would learn to live a different life and transition into the real world before they turn 18. The program was to provide the residents with therapy, school, doctor visits and basic routines.
The home’s namesake was fatally shot during an undercover operation in St. Paul in 2005. Jerry Vick was known for his efforts to combat prostitution and sex-trafficking.
Ken Vick, Jerry’s brother, said Friday that the family was sad to hear Jerry’s Place will be closing.
“It was very exciting when it opened because it was near to Jerry’s heart. He used to talk about creating a house for runaway kids or kids from the street who were in trouble,” Ken Vick said. “But I can understand it, if they don’t have the funding for it.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

Related Topics: CRIME
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