Safe Houses on Hold

Safe Houses on Hold

The weak economy delayed the opening of two safe houses in the West Valley, which together will help as many as 56 teen prostitutes get off the streets and turn their lives around.
The StreetLight shelter is planned to open in Glendale, while Natalie's House would be in the Southwest Valley.

The safe houses aim to fill a niche. There is no place for teen prostitutes who are arrested in the Valley, except juvenile detention centers. When they are released they are generally coerced back to their street lifestyle by their pimps, according to law-enforcement officials.

Officials estimate there are more than 300 prostitutes in Phoenix younger than 18. It's difficult to get reliable numbers because the children are moved about like property.

Phoenix is a major hub for child trafficking because of the warm weather and the tourist draws such as sports entertainment, StreetLight spokeswoman Aubry Ballard said.

"Girls are getting younger because pimps make more money," she said.

The average age of a teen prostitute in the Phoenix area is 13, which mirrors the national trend, Ballard said.

StreetLight and Natalie's House hope to put an end to that.

The non-profit StreetLight wanted to open this month, but licensing and fundraising pushed it to November, Ballard said.

StreetLight, planning to open with eight girls, would be the first program in Arizona, she said.

The 5-acre site with six homes would be able to accommodate as many as 48 girls up to age 18, Ballard said. The girls would receive health care, counseling, mentoring and education to integrate them back into society.

StreetLight raised $1 million and needs to come up with $1.7 million more by the end of October, Ballard said.

"So far the community has just come together," she said. "We've had an overwhelming response. It's looking good so far."

She expects StreetLight's operating budget to run from $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

Arizonans for the Protection of Exploited Children and Adults in Goodyear is planning the area's second safe house for teen prostitutes.

Natalie's House was set to open in the Southwest Valley this year, Executive Director Janet Olson said.

The new target date is January.

"We have been hit as everyone else with the recession," Olson said. "People pulled out of commitments."

Olson said the group needs to raise $100,000 through donations or grants to buy construction material, a van and other items.

Work continues on the eight-bed house, a smaller, more "family-type" environment than StreetLight.

Olson said she expects the annual operating budget to total $334,000.

Natalie's House would provide girls with shelter, equine therapy and education. The house is planned to include healing gardens with a plot of earth for each girl to grow their own vegetables, Olson said.


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