Advocates for homeless teenagers and young people with disabilities in southern Maine say a $400,000 federal grant will help dedicate resources for young people who have been coerced into trading sex for money or a place to sleep.
The two-year grant from the Department of Justice to Preble Street allocates funds directly to help victims of human trafficking. The social services agency in Portland, which also operates a teen center, will administer the money to agencies in Cumberland and York counties.
“It’s a collaborative grant that will address two kinds of human trafficking — labor trafficking and sex trafficking, (with) sex trafficking being the biggest concern right now in this area,” said Jon Bradley, Preble Street’s associate director. “It’s about people being coerced into sex for money, drugs and safety on the street.”
Bradley said the first $200,000 installment of the grant money was supposed to have been delivered Oct. 1, the day the federal government shutdown began. It should be available soon, now that the shutdown has ended.
Preble Street will use part of the money to hire a coordinator to pool the resources of agencies in southern Maine and develop a statewide network of housing and shelter options for sex-trafficking victims. “It goes to a lot of different providers,” Bradley said of the grant.
He said the money will also be used for health and mental health programs for victims, for legal assistance to vulnerable immigrants, and for protective orders.
“It’s a big step in that we’ve had no resources in this issue,” Bradley said of the new funding. “We do lots of talking about it, but we’ve been limited in resources. This gives us the opportunity to do some of these things we hadn’t been able to do.”
Preble Street will bring together many of the agencies that will be partners in the anti-trafficking project for a news conference Monday morning to announce more detailed plans for the funds, including an outreach program, case management and training.
There are no numbers available that track the extent of human trafficking in Maine.
Bradley said many of the agencies in the project rallied earlier this year to support a bill by state Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, to crack down on human trafficking. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage in July.
Portland police Sgt. Tim Farris, co-chairman of the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking & Exploitation, said in written testimony to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that he first saw what he now recognizes as sex trafficking about two years ago.
“It came to us through interviews with hotel staff and most importantly through girls involved in the sex trade,” Farris said. “We heard many horrible tales of mostly young girls, from Maine, and beyond. Stories of being recruited into the â€˜game’ right here in Maine. Stories of being bought and sold between sex traffickers (also known as pimps) multiple times.”
In other written testimony, Daniella Cameron, supervisor for the Preble Street Teen Center, said the bill was important because it expanded the definition of trafficking to include young people with disabilities, in addition to younger teenagers.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @scottddolan