Services to victims of human trafficking in Kentucky are facing an uncertain future with the expiration of two federal grants that funded anti-trafficking efforts in the state.
The grants from the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement provided funds — as recently as early October — to Catholic Charities and a handful of other agencies that worked with the charity to aid victims.
Marissa Castellanos, manager of Catholic Charities’ human trafficking services, said the loss of funding threatens the future of anti-trafficking efforts statewide.
“Our partner agencies started doing anti-trafficking work because of this (grant) money,” she said. “Two agencies have already said, ‘We can’t do this work at all. We have no other funds.’
“Catholic Charities is now trying to take over those areas,” she noted.
If services shrink or disappear altogether, it will leave few options for women, men and children who are enslaved in the sex trade and as laborers, said Castellanos.
“They’re in a pretty difficult position,” she said of trafficking victims. “This client group doesn’t really qualify for other services in the community.”
The first grant expired last February. It was a three-year award to Catholic Charities to fund a statewide “Rescue and Restore” program, an initiative of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
In 2008, the grant provided funds for Catholic Charities to form a coalition of agencies in the state that would undertake anti-trafficking work. The result was the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Program.
Catholic Charities gave 60 percent of the $260,000 grant to these partners to meet the costs of hiring staff and to raise awareness about trafficking in their communities, Castellanos said.
She noted that Catholic Charities applied to have the grant renewed, but its application was denied.
The second grant — a multi-million-dollar award to be spent over five years — expired Oct. 10. It was awarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 to provide direct services to victims of trafficking. That grant ended after the bishops’ application failed to win renewal this fall.
The bishops’ office of Migration and Refugee Services divided the award into sub-grants to agencies around the nation, including Catholic Charities of Louisville, the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center in Lexington, Ky., and the Women’s Crisis Center in Covington, Ky.
The amount of the awards depended upon the number of victims each agency served.
Together with a handful of other partners in the coalition, these agencies have provided aid to 126 victims of trafficking around the state, Castellanos said.
The two grants worked hand-in-hand, she noted, with one funding staff positions and the other providing funds to meet the basic needs of the victims.
Funding for administrative costs dried up over the summer, she said, but a small savings — some of it from donations — remains to help keep services afloat for now. She estimates that money will dry up entirely by late November or early December.
“Our services haven’t changed, but it’s getting more and more difficult,” Castellanos said. “I don’t think our clients have noticed a difference yet.”
Catholic Charities serves trafficking victims at its Sister Visitor Center on West Market Street. In the last four years, the charity has aided about 70 victims, said Castellanos.
Currently, it’s assisting 15 to 20 victims of trafficking in the Louisville Metro area and in some rural areas where there’s no other service provider, she added.
“We provide housing, food and clothing. We pay for medical care and therapy,” she said. “Catholic Charities also provides legal services.”
Castellanos and her coalition partners also have spent several years training people around the state to recognize and assist victims of trafficking. That effort was funded by the Rescue and Restore grant.
More than 12,000 professionals have been trained statewide, including all Louisville Metro Police Officers, said Castellanos. She’s currently training police chiefs and sheriffs from around Kentucky.
As the money for these efforts ran out, Castellanos said, Catholic Charities applied for four other grants that — in combination — would fund staff positions and services.
Steve Bogus, executive director of Catholic Charities, said the agency also is looking into the possibility of receiving a sub-grant from one of the organizations that received funding from the federal Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“We’re looking at all avenues that we can legitimately do to support victims,” said Bogus. “We know that there are victims of human trafficking in Kentucky, and we are trying to do what we can to get the resources to give them assistance to survive.”
Castellanos added that Catholic Charities and its partners in the Rescue and Restore coalition are committed to finding ways to continue anti-trafficking efforts.
“We are hopeful that we will find resources to continue this work,” Castellanos said. “We have a strong coalition of partners in the state who are committed to this issue.
“The big question mark is, ‘What will services look like?’ ” she added. “The victims will not disappear, unfortunately, so we need to be sure resources are available in a consistent way.”
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor