COLUMBUS — Ohio will take advantage of $290,223 in federal funds to support an around-the-clock shelter in Toledo for runaway youths and to train those on the front lines of the battle against human trafficking in northwest Ohio.
The grant will be augmented each year by $153,290 in state and local nonprofit support. It is expected to be the first of three annual grants.
Toledo was selected because of its unflattering distinction as a recruiting hub for trafficking of minors. In terms of arrests, investigations, and rescues of children in the sex trade, Toledo ranks fourth nationally behind Miami, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas. When adjusted for population, Toledo ranks first.
“Prevention is the key,” state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said. “This funding assistance in Toledo will address an epidemic plaguing our communities. It’s a beginning. This grant money will help to increase community awareness, but more importantly, it will increase treatment and services. It begins and builds from there.”
The bipartisan, primarily legislative Ohio Controlling Board this week signed off on the release of the federal funds to support the efforts of 23 AmeriCorps members. The Prevention Awareness of Trafficking Humans AmeriCorps grant was awarded by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.
Toledo Area Ministries will use 12 AmeriCorps personnel to support its efforts to take its existing drop-in center and shelter for runaways from 32 hours a week of operation to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mary Schmidbauer, youth services director at Toledo Area Ministries, said the organization has been moving in that direction since the start of the year, but this grant will solidify on-site staffing.
“We try to meet their emergency needs such as food, first-aid, hygiene,” she said. “They can do laundry and settle into a room to sleep for the rest of the night. AmeriCorps will provide for safety and staff support. During the daytime hours, they can schedule activity groups.”
Four more AmeriCorps members will work to resurrect the National Safe Place Program in Toledo in which businesses, schools, libraries, fire stations, and other locations post signs letting runaways know that they can turn to these places for help.
They also will support a local Forever Priceless awareness campaign designed to demonstrate to girls and women that they are not commodities to be sold.
Two more will work with the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition in efforts to reduce demand for trafficking victims. The other five volunteers will partner with TASC (Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities) of Northwest Ohio to work with adults most likely to come into contact with at-risk minors.
The grants were garnered through the efforts of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and the City of Toledo.
Meanwhile, the Department of Job and Family Services announced Tuesday it will spend $500,000 in state funds and $23,200 in federal funds over the next two years to transform 26 local children’s advocacy centers into sort of one-stop shops for medical screenings, police interviews, mental health counseling, and other services for minors who are trafficking victims.
Participants include the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center in Toledo, the Hancock Center for Safe and Healthy Children in Findlay, and the Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Inc. in Napoleon.
The funding will be used to train medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and social workers who are considered to be the first responders to incidents of trafficking.
“It will be clear — whether it’s a local law enforcement officer, or a school teacher, or another responsible adult — that the best place to turn when they’re dealing with human trafficking is the local child advocacy center,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.