Hue Jackson provides 'safe place' for human trafficking victims
CLEVELAND — Beau Hill strode through the hallway of the Cleveland Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Complex near downtown.
Hill, executive director of the Cleveland Salvation Army, was preparing to show a visitor a new facility built to take care of the victims of human trafficking. Asked what this 12-bed center meant to him, Hill was quick to respond: “It’s huuuuge.”
When Hill entered the facility, signs of recent work were evident. He stepped around scaffolding and through rooms that had recently had wallboards and spackling compounds added. He pointed to a living room, walked down the hall past a mini-kitchen and around a corner to three bedrooms where up to 12 women survivors of human trafficking could sleep.
The Hue Jackson Respite Services for Recovered Survivors of Human Trafficking will have its ribbon-cutting ceremony/grand opening July 17. Housed in the Cleveland Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Complex, it is largely funded by the Hue Jackson Foundation, which the Browns coach established with his wife Michelle a year ago.
“Michelle and I are very excited about the opportunity to assist survivors of human trafficking by helping to provide a place of respite,” Jackson said in a statement released through his foundation. “This ribbon cutting ceremony is more than a formality. It is a signal to the community we hope to help that there is a safe place to go and there are people who care.”
Kimberly Diemert, the foundation’s executive director, said the space will allow the women a chance to “go through their rebirth.”
“The goal is to give the women the control they need to regain their life and their sense of independence and self-worth,” Diemert said.
“This is the first step in a journey, a journey in making a difference in the life of the survivors of human trafficking,” said Major Thomas Applin, divisional secretary of the Cleveland Salvation Army.
The remodeled space will include a refreshment area, an activity area and a living room — all designed to give a sense of home. Services within the Harbor Light Complex include counseling and 24-hour nursing care as well as medically supervised drug and alcohol detoxification and outpatient therapy.
Planning for the space stressed safety and security for residents while giving women the freedom that was taken from them, in a place they can call home for as long as they need to.
Jackson said he and Michelle chose human trafficking as the foundation’s focus because they have seen the problem and its effects “first-hand.”
The foundation provided $250,000 toward the renovations — which included money Jackson raised when he jumped into Lake Erie in June with about 150 other members of the Browns organization.
No requirements will be placed on residents, in part to allow them to gain a control of a life that was missing when they were being trafficked. Hill said most victims are referred through law enforcement or rape crisis centers.
In 2016, Ohio ranked fourth in the nation in human trafficking, Hill said. However, that number barely touches the scope of the issue because many women fear coming forward and many victims have not been identified. Diemert said in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, 89 victims have come forward to law enforcement this year, but that figure barely accounts for the total number of survivors and victims.
Hill said the respite center is “absolutely critical” for the women’s ability to continue their recovery.
Operational costs are provided by local donations, and Diemert said Jackson’s foundation has pledged its continued support. Future foundation efforts could involve community outreach or education about trafficking as well as raising funds to help the Salvation Army and other agencies working in human trafficking.
Because the respite center is staffed 24 hours day, those costs could be as much $400,000 to $500,000 annually, Hill said. In 2017 the Harbor Light Complex provided 147,472 nights of service to the needy (homeless, those dealing with substance abuse), and served 421,638 meals.
“Numbers are important to the community,” Applin said. “They want to know how many people you’re serving. But the reality is it’s one by one. One person is important.
“One person is worth doing the program if you’re going to save their life.”