The city of Toronto will investigate opportunities to create a housing initiative for women who are victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
The Affordable Housing committee made the decision after a unanimous vote during a meeting at City Hall Tuesday.
‘‘These victims would benefit from safe, dedicated, wraparound supports similar to those in other major cities,’’ says Michele Anderson, a social worker at Toronto-based homeless youth agency Covenant House, who spoke before the committee.
The issue was put on the agenda after the Chair, Coun. Ana Bailão (Ward 18 Davenport), wrote a letter to the committee saying there’s a pressing need to create housing for young women who are victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Bailão’s letter states almost one in four young homeless women trade sex for food.
Anderson agrees the city faces a big challenge.
‘‘There’s no doubt that these horrific crimes are major problems in our city. We know that almost half of the 77 human trafficking charges laid in Canada between 2006-2011 took place in Toronto,’’ says Anderson.
Anderson also spoke in defense of providing special housing instead of shelters.
‘‘Women’s understanding of someone who’s been trafficked… they look down on them. There is a very negative label that can go with this,’’ says Anderson who sees yet another problem. ‘‘The shelter systems are highly structured. It’s not that different from the life they’ve left.’’
Coun. Maria Augimeri (Ward 9 York Centre) takes a similar approach.
‘‘I have personal experience with victims of abuse and it’s true, they don’t feel safe in a shelter system. The girls who I know, who have been in a shelter system, feel as though they are trapped,’’ says Augimeri.
The initiative requires the director of the Affordable Housing Office and the executive director of Social Development, Finance and Administration to work with the general manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration and the president and chief executive officer of Toronto Community Housing to investigate the opportunities of the pilot initiative.
Coun. Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore) offered an amendment to the initiative just as the committee was set to vote.
Grimes says information of potential community partners and locations should be provided confidentially if necessary as it might pose a security risk if made public.
The director of the Affordable Housing Office and the executive director of Social Development, Finance and Administration have until April 2014 to report back to the committee.