Public funding of shelters for sexually trafficked youths in Minnesota will double to $3.3 million this year, as the state expands a pioneering effort to decriminalize prostitution by adolescents.
The grants, issued by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, will increase the number of available beds from 25 to 48 in Duluth, Brainerd and the east metro area, and increase services for youths at other shelters, said Jim Koppel, assistant commissioner of human services. All told, seven facilities across the state will receive additional funding for beds, medical care and other services.
Shelters are a critical part of the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth law, which was passed in 2011 to reform the handling of prostitution by adolescents and teenagers. Minnesota is a leader in what is becoming a national initiative to treat sexually trafficked adolescents and teenagers as victims, not criminals.
“There are 4,000 youth who are homeless on any night,” Koppel said. “Sexual exploitation is almost predictable if they are out for six weeks or more — in order to survive.”
There are now seven shelters across the state that provide specialized treatment for youths referred to them after being arrested. About 97 percent of them are girls, and 60 percent are in the Twin Cities, according to DHS and public safety data. About half are living with a parent or guardian and are enrolled in school, Koppel said, and many have a history or drug use, depression or are runaways.
“I’m sure we are serving a fraction of the need, but the need has not been truly identified,” he said.
180 Degrees, one of the organizations that was awarded funding, will get $350,000 in new money, part of $1.2 million in grants and donations it is seeking to operate Brittany’s Place in St. Paul. The shelter, built in 2014, can house up to 12 girls ages 10 to 17. They get mental health and medical treatment, social services and even a school on site.
The money will pay for case management, food and supplies, activities and transportation, said Dan Pfarr, chief executive of 180 Degrees. With the teenagers in their charge, “you act as their parents,” he said.
The other shelters that will receive funding are Heartland Girls’ Ranch, in Benson; Life House, Duluth; Lutheran Social Service, Brainerd; Tubman in Maplewood; The Link, Prior Lake; and the StreetWorks Collaborative in St. Paul and Minneapolis.