OMAHA, Neb. – Heartland Family Service (HFS), a local human service nonprofit, recently received a $499,999 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). This three-year grant, part of the DOJ‘s Office of Justice Program, will benefit the Heartland Family Service Heartland Housing Sanctuary program, which serves survivors of sex trafficking.

Due to support from the U.S. Department of Justice, this grant will primarily allow HFS’ Heartland Housing Sanctuary, a concealed residential facility, to add short-term housing assistance, including the payment of rent, utilities, or related expenses, such as security deposits and relocation costs, as another component of our continuum of services for the clients we serve. Heartland Family Service is one of only 73 agencies across the country to receive one of these grants.

Heartland Housing Sanctuary served 79 human trafficking victims and 17 of their children in 2019, in its first year of operation. Over the year, 67% of clients exited to permanent housing. Expanded services made possible by this grant will serve 20 to 30 clients with transitional housing as they work toward safe, permanent, and stable housing.

Although human trafficking is a widespread occurrence, it is also a highly underreported crime. According to the Creighton University Human Trafficking Initiative, 900 individuals in Nebraska are sold for sex online multiple times each month, including 675 in Omaha. However, in 2019, only 82 instances of trafficking were reported in Nebraska, and 102 were reported in Iowa.

Risk factors for being a target of human trafficking are greater for runaway and homeless youths, foreign nationals, and persons who have experienced past trauma and violence in their lives. In 2017, the Human Trafficking Hotline received over 62,000 calls from across the United States and U.S. territories, identified nearly 8,800 human trafficking cases, and provided resources and referrals to over 10,600 victims.

About Heartland Housing Sanctuary

The Heartland Family Service Heartland Housing Sanctuary program provides crisis stabilization to survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking. The program includes Sanctuary House, a temporary housing option for up to 14 individuals or adults with children. The location of Sanctuary House is confidential to ensure the safety of both residents and employees. Crisis stabilization and case management services are available 24 hours a day to provide safety and support whenever services are needed. Survivors are welcome to stay at Sanctuary House up to 90 days and each is provided comprehensive case management and therapy services. The program also provides both therapy- and skills-based groups designed to empower survivors to lead healthy, independent lives.

About Heartland Family Service

Since 1875, Heartland Family Service has responded to the needs of our area’s most vulnerable children and families. In 2019, our agency connected with over 60,000 individuals through direct services, education, and outreach. Our programs serve individuals of all ages — from infants in our Family Works program to seniors in our Generations Community Center. We operate from over 15 locations in east central Nebraska and southwest Iowa. We provide critical human services to the individuals and families who ultimately shape the future of our community through the following program areas: Child & Family Well-Being, Counseling & Prevention, and Housing, Safety, & Financial Stability.