The Kristi House in Miami will soon open the state's first temporary shelter following passage of the Florida Safe Harbor Act, a new state law that protects young sex-trafficking victims and helps them in the recovery process.
On Friday, Kristi House Board President Nelson Diaz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and other community leaders took a tour of the agency's Emergency Drop-in Shelter, a one story home that will open in January for six girls.
"To those victims, we can say there is hope and it's in Miami-Dade County," said Diaz at a press conference following the tour. The location of the shelter — which will be created out of a home bought for under $200,000 — is not being disclosed in order to protect the girls.
In June, Gov. Rick Scott was at Kristi House to sign the Florida Safe Harbor Act, legislation that protects the young sex-trafficking victims, treating them as victims instead of prosecuting them.
The Senate and House bills — H.B. 99 and H.B. 7049 — came out of three years of grass-roots efforts and political discussion, both on the state and federal level.
On Friday, Carvalho pledged that the school district will provide a teacher, food and technology.
"This issue needs to come to an end," Carvalho said.
Trudy Novicki, the executive director of Kristi House, said the shelter — which is being paid for by mainly private donors — is only the first piece of the puzzle. Other organizations are looking to long-term residential programs.
Kristi House opened 16 years ago as a child advocacy program. About four years ago Kristi House began the GOLD program — Girls Owning Their Lives and Dreams — and has helped more than 200 children who have been caught up in sex trafficking.
Rubio, who said the press conference was meant to spread awareness of the problem, said he first took interest in human trafficking several years ago after watching the movie Human Trafficking. He did computer research and found it was a problem in South Florida.
There had been several international programs targeting sex trafficking, but little in the United States, he said. Rubio is also urging the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and pass the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012.
"We need to continue to call attention to the issue," he said after the conference. "There are slaves right here in Dade County."