Saltzman, Sam Adams, and Diane McKeel
  • Saltzman, Sam Adams, and Diane McKeel
Big news today from City Hall: Portland City Council will vote next week on whether to put $285,000 from the city's contingency fund toward building the region's first shelter for human trafficking victims.

Mayor Sam Adams announced today that Portland will partner with Multnomah County to build the shelter, since the county received a $500,000 federal grant to fight sexual exploitation of children. The city's contingency fund is expected to double in size given the current rosy budget forecast.

Portland is one of the nation's biggest hubs for human trafficking, as revealed by an FBI sting last year. Currently there are zero shelters specifically for victims of sex trafficking.

"Portland has a reputation for sustainability, as a livable place," said Mayor Adams, but that reputation has been "stained by becoming a hub for juvenile sex trafficking. Today we are another step along the way, confronting that perception and more importantly, the reality." Tracking human trafficking is difficult—the emergency ordinance up for a vote next week says that Portland Police find about five cases per week, but a Sgt. Mike Geiger said those numbers were probably unreliable. National statistics show that about a third of teens who go missing will wind up being lured or forced into prostitution and that 14,500 to 17,500 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked in the US annually.

Janus Youth Services, which runs a number of youth residential treatment programs locally, will convert one of its existing youth treatment centers into this four to eight bed shelter providing a range of services specifically to sex trafficking victims. Trafficking victims often need a bundle of targeted services from schooling to addiction treatment.

If approved, the funding announced today will also create two new jobs for sexual assault victims advocates within the Portland Police Bureau.

"What we've heard over and over is that the biggest needs are for shelter and victim advocates," says County Commissioner Diane McKeel.

A separate long-term shelter for youths caught up in the sex trade is being planned with federal funds, aiming to provide wrap-around services for kids under 18 who will stay at the shelter for more than six months.

The Portland-funded shelter is slated to open sometime in early 2011, about a year ahead of federally-funded project.