Houston Command Fights Trafficking at Super Bowl LI
By: Laura Poff
The Salvation Army Houston Area Command forged an agreement with the City of Houston to provide 55 beds for sex trafficking survivors at one of their city shelters in the days leading up to and following Super Bowl weekend. Survivors worked with partner organizations who provide case management services to help with immediate needs, legal and health concerns and to identify long-term housing options.
“Having shelter beds on reserve with The Salvation Army’s support was critical,” Minal Patel Davis, Special Advisor to the Mayor of Houston on Human Trafficking, said. “This agreement filled a gap by allowing for emergency placement of a potential victim without having to repeatedly call a domestic violence shelter to see if a bed is available.”
Survivors started arriving at the shelter in the days leading up to the Super Bowl as traffickers began sending them into the city in preparation for the big game on Sunday, Feb. 5 with four placements coming in by Thursday afternoon.
“All four of them report having been brought here specifically for the Super Bowl,” said Gerald Eckert, Houston Area Command social services director. One woman suffered from seizures while with a trafficker and, as a result, was found alone lying in the street. After she was taken to the emergency room by a Good Samaritan, she was referred to staff at The Salvation Army, who connected her to a detox program.
“This is our first anti-trafficking specific response and the first time we’ve really worked with anti-trafficking partners,” Eckert said.
The Houston Area Command is now a part of the city’s anti-trafficking coalition which works with the mayor’s office, law enforcement, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the public defender’s office and other local agencies to provide a comprehensive response to labor and sex trafficking. One partner organization educates staff and clients of The Salvation Army’s four area shelters on the signs of trafficking, sometimes leading to personal revelations.
“Some of our clients don’t believe they are trafficked because they believe their perpetrator really does love them,” he said.
As a result of this education, they realize that they have been trafficked and are able to seek the care and support that they need to move forward.
“I’m really grateful to work for The Salvation Army because it is the one agency whose mission is so broad that when these type of issues come up we are able to help,” he said. “Our mission is to provide services without discrimination so any time that there’s a gap or an emerging issue, The Salvation Army has allowed me to develop a program around that issue.”