Victims of sex trafficking soon will have a safe place to call home in Waite Park.
Terebinth Refuge plans to open a house by early April that can house six people. Eventually, leaders are aiming for an 18-bed shelter and transitional housing for victims of sex trafficking, said CeCe Terlouw, executive director of Terebinth Refuge.
For now, they'll be renting a house owned by the city of Waite Park. Police Chief Dave Bentrud helped secure the home that will become the shelter. It had been vacant and was showing signs of decay.
"The timing was right," Bentrud said. "(The city) can charge rent and it helps them get started. It's a win-win."
Leaders expect the situation to last about two years, and hope they will be able to raise enough funds for a larger facility by the time the lease is up.
The refuge plans to provide faith-centered services with a holistic, relationship-building approach to healing, Terlouw said.
The shelter is one of the first steps in getting victims out of sex trafficking. Many stay or go back to that life because they have nowhere else to go.
CeCe Terlouw, executive director of Terebinth Refuge, hopes to open the home in early April. It will serve as transitional housing for victims of sex trafficking and can house six people. Eventually, the goal is an 18-bed shelter
“It’s been disturbing to watch women walk from the safety of law enforcement into a car driven by their pimp," Bentrud said. "We take them in and do everything we can to encourage them to leave their trafficker, but we have nowhere safe for them to go."
"We have had a few incidents as a result of investigations that really could have used ... a crisis bed," he said.
Trafficked women and girls often have needs that differ from people who end up in shelters for homelessness and domestic violence. There really was no place for them to go, Bentrud said.
It's coming at a good time. Local groups received a grant that will fund anti-trafficking work locally via the Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Investigative Task Force.
Two investigators — one each from Waite Park and St. Cloud — will begin working on trafficking cases full time in March. The officers will provide education to the community as well as investigate sex trafficking.
Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud and CeCe Terlouw, executive director of Terebinth Refuge, tour a home Monday, Feb. 12, that will be the new shelter and transitional housing for victims of sex trafficking.
Bentrud said the investigators also will be able to reduce demand for paid sex by targeting buyers.
"We've been pretty successful working on this issue, more or less part time," Bentrud said. "Part of me feels like we're only hitting the tip of the iceberg ... and there's a lot more we're going to uncover."
All the more reason to get Terebinth Refuge operating in some capacity.
"It is anticipated they are going to have more and more encounters with victims," Bentrud said. "And the need for a safe place, a safe house is going up — up significantly."
Still, the house is a temporary measure.
"In the long term, we will need a larger place," Terlouw said. "It won’t take long for these six beds to be full.”
She hopes the refuge, when completed, will be the first of its kind in Minnesota.
It will specifically aim to help adult women who have been trafficked. Many have spent years being exploited and abused and have little hope for the future, she said.
“The easier it becomes for these women to decide to leave, the less trafficking there will be in our community and counties," Bentrud said.
Helping survivors re-establish their lives can be difficult.
In additional to the physical, mental and emotional trauma victims have to cope with, there are also practical challenges.
Many have little education, have never had a traditional job and lack a credit history. They also have criminal records from prostitution charges, illegal drug use or other activities that resulted from being trafficked. Some don't even have identification.
Bentrud said the details are still being worked out, but he expects the new shelter to offer crisis, short-term housing. It can house women temporarily while helping them identify other avenues of support.
The opportunity to use the house in Waite Park came unexpectedly and happened pretty fast, Terlouw said. She's excited to begin cleaning up and furnishing the house, and getting supplies ready for women.
Terlouw credited the interest and generosity of the St. Cloud community for being able to open the house so soon.
"At every event where I speak about sex trafficking, people ask what they can do to help."
Written by, Stephanie Dickrell St. Cloud Times